#1 Cops fear Calif. isle is turning gangster paradise07-11-2008, 01:08 PM
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Writer Fri Jul 11, 7:58 AM ET
AVALON, Calif. - It seems even 22 miles of open ocean might not be keeping gangs off Catalina Island, a mist-shrouded outpost of Los Angeles County best known for its Hollywood history and crystal-clear harbors.
Deputies on the isle say a fledgling gang called the Brown Pride Locos has gotten a foothold among the beaches, coves and tourist shops. A stabbing, burglaries and graffiti are being blamed on the gang, and deputies last month surprised teenagers practicing moves with knives on a dark bluff above Avalon's crescent-shaped bay.
A swift crackdown has netted at least six arrests and led to a pair of police raids — but it has also caused an uproar in the tiny community, where residents leave their doors unlocked and putt around in golf carts.
Locals insist that LA's corrupting influences could never penetrate their paradise, where the stars of Hollywood's golden age frolicked and where dozens of classics, such as "Mutiny on the Bounty" and parts of "Jaws," were filmed.
Deputy David Mertens, a six-year gang enforcement veteran from Los Angeles, is trying to gain the upper hand before the violence escalates.
"Before I transferred here, I came to do my interview and I was shocked," said Mertens, who was brought in with a new commander late last year. "I could not believe all these gangsters walking around and all these drug deals going on right in the open."
Mayor Bob Kennedy, a scuba shop owner who never locks his truck and doesn't have a house key, acknowledges that some teens on the island heckle tourists, smoke marijuana and do some tagging. But he worries that overzealous policing — and the gang label — could empty the daily ferries that bring as many as 15,000 visitors to the island on summer weekends.
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