The killing of Pedro Morales and the wounding of his brother in a shooting on Monte Vista Street Saturday evening were the latest in a string of violent incidents fueled by rival gangs that have moved into the area, according to police.
Homicide detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division, who on Monday morning were still in the field, investigating the shooting, confirmed that they believe the killing of Morales to have been gang related. Police have not released the name of Morales' wounded brother.
No information on potential suspects has been released yet.
Detective Rick Ortiz of the Northeast LAPD Gang Unit said his officers would likely cooperate in the investigation as well.
Ortiz told Patch that the increased violence in the area could be traced to the relocation of rival gang members into the area.
[Editor's Note: Patch does not use the names of area gangs in our reporting, so as to not contribute to their local fame.]
"What's going on is that we have a gang that for years has been located above York Boulevard and they've migrated down south, converging in that Monte Vista area with another gang," Ortiz said. "Another gang that's been inactive for many years has also had an uprising. We're not sure how they ended up in that area. Families just end up in one area or another. They migrated that way. I don't think that the gang is thinking 'We have to move over in that area;' they just ended up there and started getting active."
According to the crime data tracking website CrimeMapping.com, there have been 28 reports of assault with a deadly weapon within the area bounded by Avenue 52, Avenue 59, Monte Vista Street and North Figueroa Street since the start of 2012.
Morales' killing is the first homicide of the year on Monte Vista Street.
"I think it's youngsters trying to step up," Ortiz said. "It's typical gang-banging. Someone will spray graffiti, somebody else will cross it out, then it escalates from there."
According to the Eastsider L.A., residents in the area had noticed the tagging sign "53" showing up recently, which they reported was new in the area.
, concerns have been raised about the ability of LAPD to effectively police gang crime in the area.
"Actually the police are a part of the problem. LAPD's job is to police the city, and make their presence felt to prevent crime. If LAPD is seen more often, criminals of all sorts will think twice about the crimes they are committing. Maybe LAPD would witness some of these crimes and catch these people," said Patch commenter Gill. "LAPD's budget increases every year. Yet LAPD patrol officers are being taken off the streets and promoted. The number of LAPD officers on the actual street always stays the same or just barely increases, while they continue to get a bigger budget. I think patrolling our streets is more important than building new police stations and buying new cars every two years."
Gill's point about LAPD's budget increasing every year is technically incorrect, as this year's city budget cut funding to the department by $120 million, much of which will come at the expense of overtime pay for patrol officers. But, it also raises an important question about how LAPD prioritizes the allocation of its resources.
Ortiz said that the LAPD Northeast Gang Unit was still fully staffed and capable of patrolling the streets of Highland Park.
He said there are currently 18 uniformed patrol officers in the unit and 10 detectives. The detectives typically work daytime shifts, Monday through Friday, while the patrol officers rotate schedules seven days a week. Detectives are also available to assist in patrols on nights and weekends, Ortiz said.
When asked if his unit had the necessary manpower to patrol gang activity in Highland Park, Ortiz responded: "I'd say yes. If we had more, it'd be better, though. But, our gang unit, for instance, it's not the largest in the city, but we can run seven days a week. There's always a gang officer out there."
Ortiz said a bigger problem in combating gang violence in Highland Park was an unwillingness on the behalf of witnesses and victims to report crimes, for fear of retaliation from gang members.
"The best thing the residents of that area can do—and they don't really like to do it—is report the crime," Ortiz said. "There's a reluctance to become involved because it's gangs. They don't want to get involved. Witnesses and victims of gang crimes are afraid to come forward."
Ortiz said he understood the unwillingness of victims to come forward, but he stressed that community cooperation was an important tool in fighting gang crime, and that it often leads to arrests that take gang members off the streets.
He said that LAPD also had the funding necessary to relocate witnesses, should they feel threatened.
"Absolutely, when we do get victims who want to come forward, we're able to relocate them, help them out," Ortiz said. "We still get that resource from the state."