updated 2/8/2007 8:38:25 PM ET 2007-02-09T01:38:25

Abandoning the long-held belief that naming the worst gangs boosts their street image, the mayor and police chief identified 11 of the most violent groups Thursday and promised to confront them with more law enforcement.

Authorities are reversing strategy in response to a surge in gang bloodshed that has defied the city’s continuing drop in overall crime. The Police Department says the city has 400 gangs with about 39,000 members, though other agencies estimate there are more than 700 groups.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police Chief William Bratton were to announce the plans Thursday at a police station in a San Fernando Valley neighborhood where gang crime more than doubled last year.

Gangs selected for the “Most Wanted”-style list have histories of assaulting police officers or targeting victims based on race, said Lt. Paul Vernon, a police spokesman.

Other parts of the initiative involve seeking more gang injunctions that ban members from congregating in certain neighborhoods, training residents on how to recognize gang members and creating a list of the 10 most wanted gang members, Vernon said.

Reaction from neighborhood activists and gang interventionists ranged from skeptical to negative. Posting a list simply will make gangs want to be on it, they said.

“To the gang members it is a badge of honor,” said Najee Ali, an activist and former gang member.

Wrong focus, former gang member says
Mike Cummings, a former gang member and pastor of the We Care Ministries in Watts, said the city should focus more on programs designed to keep children from joining gangs.

“If you’re going to take away gangbangers, you need to replace them with something,” said Cummings, who helps broker peace accords between rival gangs. “Job training. Recreation. We’re talking about long-term stuff.”

In a city-funded study, civil rights attorney Connie Rice last month said efforts to combat gang crime in the city should include $1 billion in a plan that would create economic and social opportunities in gang-infested areas. Rice also recommended focusing law enforcement efforts on the most violent gangs.

Villaraigosa has appealed to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for millions of dollars in anti-gang funds and for more federal prosecutors to pursue racketeering and other charges mostly used in the past against organized crime. Gonzales has identified gangs as one of the country’s greatest security threats.

The mayor is also working with FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has assigned agents to an anti-gang task force in the San Fernando Valley to work alongside police officers deputized as federal officers.

Another study released Thursday in Washington found that anti-immigrant backlash can marginalize young people from Central America and increase the risk that they will turn to gangs. The yearlong study of Latino gangs in the Washington area and five Central American countries also found no sign of transnational coordination among gang members, undercutting the idea that gangs are engaged in an organized effort to spread their influence.

The report was from the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and the nonprofit advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America.

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