Dotted by temples, community centers and parks, the largely Orthodox Jewish Crestview neighborhood and its adjacent areas in West L.A. don't seem to be a typical battleground for gang bangers. But residents say that is exactly what it's become.
Little more than a month ago, Crestview's peaceful aura was shaken by a drive-by shooting that left at least a dozen bullet holes in the second story of a duplex on Wooster Street, which neighbors said they believe is inhabited by a gang member.
The ball dropped again last week when three fatal shootings occurred in a three-day period in La Cienega Heights (LACH), the neighborhood just south of Crestview. On July 11, 16-year-old Hamilton High School student Ana Interiano was shot in the head on her way home from summer school near Robertson Boulevard and Cadillac Avenue, succumbing to her wounds later that evening in a hospital.
Two days later, two young Latino males were killed by gunfire just blocks away. Outraged residents of Crestview, La Cienega Heights and its neighbor to the south, Reynier Village, have been spurred to action since last week's bloodshed. They gathered Monday in Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church to discuss the escalating violence with representatives from the LAPD, City Council and mayor's office.
"We will not stand for it anymore. We will not live in fear. We are having to exit one way out of our neighborhood to avoid certain areas," said Connie Collins, president of the La Cienega Heights Community Group.
Although the Jewish presence in the area has increased in recent years, the area east of Robertson Boulevard in West Los Angeles remains a hodgepodge of races and religions. Its lingering pace of demographic change has failed to root out gang violence -- residents suspect gang members still reside within the neighborhoods. They also believe the poor standards maintained by landlords in local apartment buildings have contributed to the problem.
At Monday's meeting, residents demanded that the city engage in prosecuting nuisance landlords who have failed to reign in rowdy tenants.
"We do not feel that the city is willing or has the resources to partner with us in the manner that is needed to stop this problem. We need prosecutions. We need landlords to understand that they must uphold community standards to stop our children from being killed," Collins said.
Residents also volleyed questions at LAPD Capt. Carol Aborn Khoury, demanding to know why the department has not diminished crime in the area despite the many specific reports on gang activity logged by residents.
Collins said she knew of at least six that had occurred in the La Cienega Heights in the past four years, including last week's three. However, police were unable to confirm an exact count of homicides by the time The Journal went to press.
In March, an off-duty Culver City police officer was shot in the jaw by gang members in Crestview. Residents say the area suffers from constant graffiti tagging and is a favorite loitering place for gang members.
According to a neighborhood press release, "Residents of LACH are chased by gang members, told they cannot park in their personal driveways or parking space because they are now owned by gangs, regularly hear gunshots, have bullets flying into their homes, witness drug deals, have resorted to making citizen arrests, wisely select the streets on which they walk and drive, are selling their homes at a rapid rate, and continuously live in fear."
Police Capt. Khoury estimated that five to six gangs consider the three neighborhoods to be their turf, but noted that new gangs are constantly forming and replacing one another.
Although she assured residents that the department's gang unit spends the majority of its time in La Cienega Heights, in addition to deploying 80 percent of its additional resources to the area since the surge in crime six weeks ago, Khoury identified the real problem as the shortage of police officers across Los Angeles. She said the LAPD does not attract enough qualified applicants to fully staff all of its sectors.
She implored the neighborhoods to take the initiative despite the efforts of the police.
"The solution to the gang problem is not arrest and prosecution," Khoury said. " We have lost the gang battle if that is what we're working with. I can tell you we cannot have successful prevention and intervention programs without a holistic approach with the community, the business community, parks, recreation, schools ... everybody has to be fully involved in trying to find a place for these kids to be other than out on the streets congregating ... that's going to lead to criminal behavior."