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100 days, 100 nights: How LAPD is dealing with rumors, gangs and fear

Recently, South Los Angeles was in the spotlight after social media rumors promised 100 days and 100 nights of retaliation after a 27-year-old man was shot and killed there. The rumors turned out to be just that, but they came during a surge in gang violence. The Times' Nicole Santa Cruz sat down with the LAPD's top cop in South Los Angeles, Deputy Chief Bill Scott, to talk about gang violence, rumors and crime.

This year as a whole, the city is seeing a surge in violent crime. As a law enforcement leader, how do you approach a surge in crime?

A couple things — with the violent crime, that's of course a huge issue because we've had so many years where crime has been on the decline. The first objective for me as a leader is to get our folks to understand that we are in this for the long haul. ... Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in looking at what's happening right now that you lose perspective on the bigger picture and the bigger objective.

And that plays a lot into what the department and the chief of police, Chief Beck, is trying to do in terms of relationship-based policing, because when you address crime and spikes of violence on the short term, really the quickest and the most effective way to do that is to increase your enforcement and your suppression on those people who you think are engaging in that violent crime, particularly gangs in South Los Angeles.

But that too has a consequence, particularly for that community. There's so many people that have been in the criminal justice system and you don't want to harm the community by your policing tactics, so we have to have a balance.

Recently rumors of gang violence on social media spread fast to the streets, prompting fear in residents. How did you reach out to the community to get those rumors quashed?

The first thing we had to do was reach out to our own folks and make sure they understood what this post was, whether it was fact or fiction....That post went through the LAPD just as quickly as it went through the community.

The second thing is when the community, when they got hold of that post, it spread like wildfire. I was getting text messages and emails, and then by the time it got to the press it just really exponentially spread. One of the things that we said we needed to do right away was get the most accurate information out to the community that we could.

People were thinking that it was just out of control, Wild, Wild West, that people were dying on a daily basis, and that really wasn't the case. We did have a bad week that week, but really we only had one homicide — and I'm not minimizing: One death is one too many. But…people were thinking that people were just dying on every street corner in South Los Angeles, and that was far from the truth.

Secondly, we wanted to, as much as we could, vet this post. Is there any validity to it? Statistically, we knew it wasn't valid, because my understanding was that post came out on July 17, and we did not have a homicide every day from July 17 through the 25.

On Saturday (July 25) we had a huge gang funeral that morning....We had an incident at that funeral, and we didn't really know what that would do in terms of violence that night. A couple hours later, we had that homicide off 81st and Hoover, and initially everybody was thinking that might have been connected to the funeral.

What we're hearing now and based off the investigation, we don't think so. But that's the information that got out to the community. Shortly thereafter, we had a series of different shootings within a pretty close radius, three-, four-mile radius, which kind of fed into this whole 100 days, 100 nights thing, which kind of led to the urban legend of this post. We called a tactical alert.

A lot of people in the community heard "tactical alert" and thought all hell is breaking loose. And that really wasn't the case. We pooled resources into South L.A. from all over the city, but we did it for a number of reasons.

By that time, the fear factor had started to set in, and people were really afraid. We wanted them to see police officers out in the field, out in the community. We wanted them to know that the community is still safe.

From Saturday night at around midnight for the next few days, we didn't have hardly any incidents, particularly any gang-related incidents, so things quieted down very quickly, which was another indication that this 100 days, 100 nights thing wasn't a valid threat to the community.

How have you seen the department change its approach to how it deals with gangs over the past decade?

We've evolved, and it's been a transformation, really. Our strategies now, although we still have gang units, we still have Metropolitan Division, we still have to do suppression, we still have to do strategic enforcement and whatnot, but the other side of that is we have to have the community involved.

It's interesting that we may have seen a surge in Part I crimes — aggravated assault, robberies and rapes — but we aren't seeing it in homicides.

It really is, and I think anecdotally, I think part of it is our model for addressing gang violence.... You definitely can't underscore medicine and technology and the lifesaving of ER rooms these days. But when you look at the rate decline of homicides, I think our gang model definitely plays into that as well.

How have you seen the community's attitude change with more focused national attention on police shootings?

That national dialogue is very intense; it's a very, very complex set of issues. But what it's done here in L.A. because of these relationships is, it's forced dialogue....

What we have going on in this city that I am so happy and proud of, is…we can sit down and I talk about it. When you can't do that, you have issues, serious issues. People don't feel like their voices are being heard.... And that's what leads to a lot of the civil unrest that we see. I think that's what has led to the civil unrest here in the past.

The interview has been edited for length.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: At a community meeting in South L.A. in 2013, from left, LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green, Commander Bill Scott (now deputy chief), Chief Charlie Beck and Capt. Robert Arcos respond to questions. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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