Attorney General Kamala Harris warns of “Gang-and-Drug Armageddon”
By Chris Levister –
In the early morning hours of June 7, 2011, an elite U.S., state and local multi-jurisdictional task force staged Operation “Bright Lights Big City”, a back-breaking raid on members of the notorious Varrio Latino gang Azusa 13, they say conspired to rid the Southern California city of its Black residents. “It was hell on earth,” recalls a Riverside mother of three (name withheld) who in 2007 escaped Azusa and the gang law enforcement say is tied to the Mexican Mafia.
Azusa Police Chief Robert Garcia said Azusa 13’s attacks included scrawling racial epithets on African-Americans’ homes and street violence that last year targeted a Black high school student walking home from a track meet.
According to the latest U.S. Census information, about 64% of the city's 47,000 residents are Hispanic and nearly 4% are Black.
“This is not the first Southern California gang accused of racially-motivated attacks. The Avenues in Highland Park, Varrio Hawaiian Gardens and Florencia 13 in South L.A. are all Latino gangs whose members have faced state or federal civil rights charges for attacking and killing African- Americans,” said state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
The Azusa 13 gang adopted a racist principle “that members of the gang will harass and use violence to drive African- Americans out of the City of Azusa and would use violence in order to prevent African-Americans from moving into the City,” according to U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
The kind of multi-jurisdictional cooperation seen in the Azusa 13 raid is in serious jeopardy Harris warned Friday, following the passage of an $86 million budget signed by Governor Jerry Brown last week without a single GOP vote. We’re looking at “Gang-and-Drug Armageddon.”
Harris and members of other state and local public safety agencies came out swinging after a Democrat led Legislature passed and an on time budget that would see a $35.8 million reduction in its law enforcement budget next fiscal year and another $35.2 million in the year after that.
A $71 million cut to the Division of Law Enforcement budget will “handcuff” the state Department of Justice's ability to fight gang violence and disrupt the flow of drugs, guns and human beings across our border, Harris said in a statement.
“The cuts will likely eliminate 55 state-led task forces that coordinate the response to our growing gang problem. The Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence and Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement will also likely be eliminated, as well as the investigative capacities of the newly formed Mortgage Fraud Strike Task Force. All told, several hundred agents, investigators, and other law enforcement positions will be lost, as will the ability to prosecute cases like these,” said Harris.
That $71 million cut could cost the DOJ another $40 million in matching federal funds over the next two years, said Division of Law Enforcement Director Larry Wallace.
“We could be looking at cuts in excess of $100 million,” he said. "It's unprecedented, unsafe and unsustainable to the Department of Justice and it will greatly handcuff California law enforcement. We could lose up to 600 law enforcement positions if we take this hit, and possibly have to eliminate the bureau of narcotic enforcement and the bureau of investigations and intelligence.”
The president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association -- who happens to work as a DOJ special agent -- Alan Barcelona accused Democrats of welcoming drug gangs to California and called the budget cut “absolutely astounding.”
“At a time when our local law enforcement agencies are being stretched to the point of layoffs due to their own budget problems, they do not have the fiscal capacity or the authority to handle the responsibilities of coordinating multijurisdictional task forces to stop the flood of drugs and gangs from flowing into our state,” said Barcelona.
Also unhappy: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil- Sakauye, who watched her court system lose $200 million in annual funding in March, then found out Monday that Democrats are aiming for another $150 million cut -- and are going to delay $310 million in court construction costs by putting those projects on hold for a year.
"I am completely dismayed and gravely concerned about how the proposed budget cuts will affect the judicial branch and the public we serve. The cumulative impact of the cuts to the courts in the last three years will have the effect of court closures, fewer services to court users, and the specter of more furloughs and layoffs for employees.
State law enforcement officials aren’t the only one’s hopping mad over the budget cuts to public safety. “We’re looking at impending disaster,” warns San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos. The district attorney's office would lose $2.1 million, leading to the loss of 33 positions. Ramos said he already has a backlog of 3,000 cases that he needs more staff to tackle.
The probation department would lose 77 positions in the budget. This also would be due to the vehicle tax cut, which will result in decreased programs for juvenile offenders and affect adult probation programs such as domestic violence, sex offender and gang units, Chief Probation Officer Michelle Scray said.
The Sheriff's Department has scrapped plans for a new crime lab and is using asset-forfeiture funds to avoid layoffs.
Riverside County is also bracing for more cuts and layoffs.
Sheriff Stan Sniff said public safety departments, including the sheriff, district attorney and fire, face cuts from 3 percent to 5 percent in his recommended budget.
Other departments will see, on average, 19 percent reductions.
Sniff has already sent out layoff notices. If he has to meet even lower budget projections, the first 100 layoffs would take place July 13 followed by another 100 on Aug. 10.
A group of city police chiefs wrote in early June that reductions in unincorporated patrols will increase the need for mutual aid at a time when cities also are struggling financially.
Speaking on behalf of law enforcement agencies and organizations across the state, AG Harris called on lawmakers to restore the money.
“Public safety is a basic right of all people and a core function of our government. For that reason I call on Governor Brown and the Legislature to immediately restore adequate funding to California law enforcement.”
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