February 4th, 6 p.m., gunshots are heard coming from Lundigan Park in NW Burbank. Burbank Police report it is a suspected gang-related retaliation hit, with a single victim suffering a gunshot wound to his lower body. It was later determined that while the victim and shooter had gang affiliations, the shooting incident was triggered by a domestic dispute, and not directly related to gang activity.
Does Burbank have a gang problem? Is it real? A perception?
According to Sgt Claudio Losacco, Public Information officer with the Burbank Police, there is an increase of gang tagging and suspected activity in an area that is north and west of N. San Fernando Blvd. and W. Empire Ave. Other sources indicate the activity may involve two large and well-organized Los Angeles-area gangs which may be either recruiting or attempting to form in areas of Burbank adjacent to North Hollywood.
December 31st, 2:30 p.m., an 18 year old man is shot in a suspected gang-related “drive-by” incident in the 200 block of W. Verdugo Ave.
According to a former local law enforcement officer who requested not to be identified, Burbank has historically had several Hispanic gangs with a presence in the city, although some may not currently be active, or openly visible. The list included 4 named gangs, although myBurbank is withholding those names based on a policy not to advertise or “glorify” any gang or antisocial organization.
The former officer further explained that most gangs in the Burbank area were not well-established as criminal gangs, but were rather smaller groups that were trying to hold neighborhood “turf” as part of a need for identity and connection with others based on ethnicity or other cultural connections.
Those gangs did in some cases act as “farm teams” for recruiting members into more established, or organized gangs.
There is evidence of activity from several gangs, with increased tagging and other presence in the area identified by Sgt Losacco being the most visible. According to one area resident, “we do not want gangs feeling comfortable in this neighborhood, nor trying to establish any kind of presence.” Note that no interviewees contacted for this article, other than the Burbank Police Department, wanted their real identity published, for fear of retaliation from gangs.
On Saturday morning myBurbank photographers drove throughout the city looking for evidence of tagging or potential gang activity. The search did not reveal any sign of new or fresh tagging, and in fact only revealed a couple of tags that wee likely several years old. This included industrial areas within Sgt Losacco’s interest area, several area pars, industrial areas along Interstate 5, the Clyburn corridor, Chandler corridor, along San Fernando Rd, and numerous alleys in both industrial and residential areas of the city.
The larger gangs, including those LA-based groups identified by Sgt Losacco, may be transnational (present in several countries) in nature, and further affiliated with violent organizations such as the Mexican Mafia, and Russian organized crime. Those gangs are often identified as being involved in the drug trade, weapons, enforcement, and even murder.
In many cases the local or regional gangs are used by the more established organizations as “hired help” used for enforcement, including assault – and in some cases murder, trafficking of drugs, and handling of other controlled items.
The former officer indicated it was his opinion these gangs were in the Burbank area more in an attempt to recruit new members, rather than set up any concentrated activities within the city.
A recent parolee from the state prison system, and former gang member, indicated during a recent drive down Victory Blvd. between Hollywood Way and Buena Vista St., that he was able to identify at least three gang members openly active along the route, and in his opinion likely attempting to make contact with middle and high school students walking alone or in small groups.
Does this prove Burbank has a gang “problem?”
Let’s look at crimes. The following chart, using numbers reported by Burbank Police on Crime Mapping (crimemapping.com), show the following crime data (note September 2015 only has data available for the second 3 weeks of the month).
Statistically, this does not show any significant increase in crime categories during the periods of media reported gang-related incidents in December and January, with the exception of a surge in December related to Theft/Larceny.
According to Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse, the majority of crimes reported or investigated in Burbank are either shoplifting, or automobile burglary. This may involve some level of organization, however, Chief LaChasse also advised that most suspects in this category of crime “come from the outside, not from within Burbank.”
Violent crime, such as assault, only accounted for an average of 9% of all reported crimes, with December and January showing a percentage point decline from November (from Crime Mapping).
While it is hard to reject the idea gangs have a presence in Burbank, Chief LaChasse notes that large, established gangs “do not have a foothold in Burbank.” However, Chief LaChasse also noted that Burbank sits in the middle of cities, notably Los Angeles, which do have a gang issue. “We cannot build a wall around Burbank,” and gang members will enter the city from North Hollywood and other points.
In April 2015 two men were assaulted, one with gunshot wounds, the other beaten, outside of the Burbank Town Center following a movie at the mall’s AMC theater. The incident was thought to be gang-related. The incident was investigated, and it was determined that members of rival gangs had both entered Burbank to view a movie, encountered each other in the theater, and a violent fight followed. It was further suggested that since in many gang operating areas, there are simply no theaters, and often gang members may enter Burbank, Glendale, or Pasadena for the purpose of seeing a movie, and encounter rivals at or near the theater.
Burbank has received some financial support for law enforcement gang units under California’s Assembly Bill 109 (2011). However, Chief LaChasse emphasizes if the situation warrants, the Burbank Police are fully capable of responding to any situation, including the potential of an expansion of gang activity. At this point Chief LaChasse does not believe Burbank has a specific gang “problem,” although the department will continue to aggressively monitor gang activities both inside Burbank, and in surrounding cities and communities. Officers are continuously trained in gang awareness, and all fully understand the implications of allowing gang activity to extend into the community.
Part 2 of this series will focus more on the history of gang activity in Burbank, starting in the 1980s until recently, and will include more interviews with current and former Burbank Police officers, as well as current and “retired” gang members.
Part 3 of this series will introduce techniques the city and residents can use to respond to signs of gang activity, as well as more importantly prevent our youth from being recruited into gangs.