By Mary O’KEEFE
“A gateway environment.” That was how Glendale Police Chief Ron DePompa described Crescenta Valley and its drug and gang problem at Tuesday’s Glendale City Council meeting.
With the use of a Power Point presentation De Pompa illustrated the correlation between crime and heroin and drug arrest.
“Drug use is on the rise,” he told the council.
In an interview with the CV Weekly before his presentation, DePompa explained why this information is important to share with the public.
“Each area of the city has its own unique characteristic,” DePompa said. “But the [CV] area now has gang activity which is relatively new to the area.”
The gang DePompa referred to was 211C. At the meeting he showed about 30 mug shots of the known gang members or associates who are La Crescenta and Montrose residents.
Glendale and Los Angeles County Sheriff Department have been working in identifying those gang members and associates. Many have been arrested on charges that range from strong-arm robbery to witness intimidation.
“These are hard core criminal types,’ De Pompa said.
DePompa shared photos of an 18-year-old he said had been identified as a member of 211C. The transformation from young high school kid to a mug shot from his last arrest was evident of how quickly drugs can change the look of a person.
CV Sheriff Det. Frank Diana was one of the first law enforcement officers to investigate the then tagging crew 211C. The graffiti, or tagging, was first seen about two years ago.
“It went from a tagging crew to a little La Crescenta gang. These guys were selling drugs, marijuana,” Diana said.
The “guys” would sell the drugs and then go and steal it back from the buyers. That is why they called themselves 211 Crew. 211 is law enforcement code for robbery. The founding members of the gang lived on Mary Street north of the high school. The house was in the sheriff’s jurisdiction and they knew it and the kids who hung out there very well, Diana said.
The guys went from tagging to dealing but then one member made a connection with a gang in Hollywood called The Magicians Club or TMC.
“They were a legitimate and documented gang. That then brought a real gang tie into La Crescenta,” Diana said. “They started tagging 211C/TMC which meant they were affiliated with The Magicians and 211C turned into a real legitimate gang.”
Before, kids who wanted to get drugs would hop on a bus or drive down to Los Angeles but now the gang brings those drugs into the area.
“Like most gangs they expanded their clique. We had to stay on top of them,” Diana said.
Glendale police and sheriffs took a hard, proactive approach to the gang issue and began arresting them on a variety of charges.
“Many of those members or associates of the local gang have been arrested on several counts from burglary to drug possession. Some are now in jail while others wait for a court appearance,” DePompa said.
The chief wants residents and the city council to understand that the drug problem in Crescenta Valley is not one that will easily go away without proactive policing and community involvement.
“In Crescenta Valley the large gang presence illustrates the nature of the long term sustained drug issue,” he said.
One way the police have and will continue to fight the area is by its newly formed geographic patrol. The city is divided into areas where units of police patrol. The officers get to know the area and the people in a form of cop-on-the-beat neighborhood policing.
The police and sheriff worked closely, sharing information on those involved in the gang as well as its new associates.
“The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is committed to making the area safe,” said Capt. Dave Silversparre, CV Sheriff’s Station.
Silversparre arrived at the station about the time 211C was making a name for itself.
“We identified them as a target gang and tagging crew. We have been very successful in identifying and prosecuting [juveniles] and suspects. In October 2008 we identified heroin as a additional targeted issue,” he said.
The once prolific tagging is now virtually gone and many of the members have been arrested and are either in jail or awaiting trial.
“Because we hammered them. We absolutely have taken the game to them,” Diana said.
But the threat is still present as gang members continue to recruit.
The founding members of 211C are no longer in the area but those that they groomed have taken over and are recruiting younger members.
Proactive crime fighting units as well as strong community policing is the key to the police strategy in battling the drug issue said De Pompa.
Although heroin is a big problem in Crescenta Valley it is not the only drug issue the area faces.
“[Crescenta Valley provides] a gateway environment. There is a large number of 18-to-20-year-old [people] that have medical marijuana cards,” he said. “There are seven to eight medical marijuana dispensaries in a three mile stretch in Tujunga.”
On Tuesday, DePompa also touched on the growing trend of prescription medications being used at “cabinet parties.” These are parties where individuals bring medication they get often from their family’s medicine cabinet. The pills are dumped into a bowl and the individuals grab and take whatever they want.
“For some reason kids in La Crescenta are very open to drugs,” he added.
DePompa does not want to frighten but inform the public about the drug issue in Crescenta Valley.
“I think there are efforts that are making a difference,” he said, adding that the newly formed CV Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition has been helpful in communicating the problem and involving the community.
Howard Hakes, president of the coalition, watched DePompa’s presentation on Tuesday.
“My first reaction was how [quickly] the drug issue has evolved and has continued to grow in our community,” Hakes said.
The coalition is a grass roots effort that began with law enforcement, parents and community members wanting to educate residents about the drug issues in the area.
As a member of the coalition, Hakes is well aware of the drug issues but thought the chief’s presentation brought the problem to light.
“I knew there was an issue but after seeing the maps, I was surprised at how big [the problem] really is,” he added.
He praised law enforcement for taking a strong proactive stance against those who would bring drugs into the community.
“How great it is to have a task force from the law enforcement side. It is a full force effort,” he added.
DePompa said police patrols and raising awareness of the drug issues will continue.
“It gets back to this is a real emergency,” he said. “We take a very aggressive position on community policing.”
“I hope that the chief’s statements open parents’ eyes. I don’t want them to just read this in the paper today but then nothing [with the drug issue] happens tomorrow and then they just forget about it,” Hakes said.
“This isn’t going away.”