Gang-Related Crime in San Pedro Down, Graffiti Persists Around Town
The level of gang-related crime documented in the San Pedro and the Harbor Area has fallen to a new low as police continue to mitigate gang activity, but graffiti is seemingly unchanged as areas around the city are defaced.
According to Lt. Paul McKechnie, gang-related crime is down to one of the lowest periods on record. McKechnie heads the gang unit at Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division. According to a Harbor Division report, gang-related homicides have dropped 67 percent since 2012. Gang-related aggravated assaults have also dropped by 63 percent. The report covers the Harbor Area, including statistics for San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, and the Harbor Gateway.
Although gang activity has become stymied in the Harbor Area, graffiti appears to be as frequent as in the past. Experts say graffiti is often interpreted as a symbol of gang activity, which leaves the impression that gangs have a presence in the surrounding area.
According to Douglas L. Semark, PhD, not all graffiti is necessarily the calling card of gangs marking their territory. Semark is executive director of the Gang Alternatives Program (GAP) headquartered in San Pedro. The non-profit organization offers several outreach programs throughout the Los Angeles area designed to educate and engage at-risk youth that are susceptible to gang involvement. The organization serves 5,000 to 6,000 students each year.
Graffiti is usually created for two reasons: either gangs are being territorial and warning rival gangs or “tagging” crews, which are not tied to gangs, want to attract attention, said Semark. Tagging is often not perceived to be as dangerous as being involved in a gang, but can still be potentially dangerous for youth, he said.
“Kids in high school that get involved in tagging tend to be very prolific because it’s exciting to them and they feel like they are getting away with something. A lot of times that can be a very dangerous activity. They do dangerous things like climbing up a building or freeway overpasses,” said Semark.
“Tagging makes you a target. Taggers get shot, they get beaten, they get harassed,” he continued.
According to Semark, GAP used to visit about 200 school sites throughout the Los Angeles area warning against the perils of graffiti, but the program could longer be funded because of the recession. The program was also important because it helped students understand that social responsibility begin in school and it gave them a sense of citizenship.
“You need to think of those kids in the same context of skateboarders skating down the street in traffic. It’s thrilling and they say, ‘Hey, I’m just having a little fun,’ then they get hit by a car and it’s no longer fun.”
Outreach and education are critical to at-risk youth to prevent them from joining gangs or tagging, said Semark. Some of the at-risk youth also come from families that have a multi-generational affiliation with gangs, underscoring the need for prevention.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor in San Pedro recognize that many of their members are potential at risk youth, said executive director Mike Lansing. The organization serves about 7,500 youth each year. Lansing estimates that 90 percent of the organization’s students are at-risk for gangs.
“Just being a kid today there is a risk on so many levels,” said Lansing. “We have a wide range of programs to get kids out of at-risk trouble.”
Lansing pointed to the increase in children living in poverty with shrinking resources in the family as one of the factors that makes a child at-risk. Boys and Girls Club focuses on youth development and understands that every child is different, but finds ways to engage them with different programs, he said.
“They all have their different interests. Some get attracted to the athletics, or the arts… The more days they are here, the more often they are engaged and we are able to make an impact on their lives,” said Lansing.
Correction: The article previously misstated the amount of youth the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor served each year. It was 7,500, not 1,300.