Gangs of LA on Skid Row

Los Angeles police say gang members are preying on the homeless.

Life is already tough for the men and women living on Skid Row, but now they have a new problem: gangs.

Los Angeles police say gang members are now preying on people experiencing homelessness on Skid Row.

The NBC4 I-Team got exclusive access to the work of police officers. In two hours, the team captured several interviews and at least two arrests.

Officer Deon Joseph has worked on Skid Row for 19 years. But now, he says the streets have never been more dangerous.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," he says. "There are hundreds and hundreds of gang members and their associates hiding among the homeless."

On one part of the I-Team's ride-along with the LAPD, police arrested a man they said was with the Bloods gang. They found a Ziploc bag of prescription drugs with Vicodin and codeine, although none were in his name.

Police say violence on Skid Row is getting worse.

"I didn't know what a gang was until I came downtown. It's really hard out here," said Charlene, who lives on Skid Row.

She says homeless people are raped and abused.

The LAPD showed the I-Team video of known gang members brutally beating a man. They also showed pictures of guns, ammunition, and other weapons taken off the streets.

The police say they're unable to do much because of the tents.

"We can't see it, we can't stop it," Joseph said. "They have the ability of hiding in plain sight."

The so-called tent cities in Skid Row spread out across several blocks and lay in the shadows of a growing downtown skyline. Police say gang members prey on many who live here looking for services and help.

Officers say that a recent lawsuit limits their abilities to take the tents down. For some advocates, removing them is not an option.

"This cannot be the solution because the Constitution forbids it. There's a very clear and simple solution and that's housing," said Pete White, the founder of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, which fights inequality, in downtown.

More housing and treatment centers are among the plans for new taxpayer dollars to help with LA's growing homeless population. Right now, there are only 14,000 beds for 58,000 people experiencing homelessness in LA.

"You have to have a place to go in order for the tents to go away," said Andy Bales, the CEO of the Union Rescue Mission.

Skid Row has a concentration of groups, such as the Union Rescue Mission, that offer assistance. But elsewhere, it's a different story.

"We then have to create opportunities so we can have transitional housing or more services on the ground in those places so not everyone has to be sent down here," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

For now, Officer Joseph is dedicated to keeping Skid Row safe. He says the people he sees everyday should not become tomorrow's victims.

Contact Us