FBI, LAPD team up on killings

Fed­eral agents helped cash-strapped po­lice solve 27 homi­cides in three months.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Joel Ru­bin

For months, the bud­get cri­sis in Los An­ge­les has ham­strung and frus­trated the city’s homi­cide de­tec­tives. With no money to pay for the long hours of over­time they typ­i­cally work, LAPD of­fi­cials saw no choice but to force de­tec­tives to take time off from the job. Cases started tak­ing longer to solve or go­ing cold.

The LAPD’s strug­gles weren’t lost on Robert Clark, an FBI as­sis­tant spe­cial agent in charge of the bureau’s anti-gang ef­forts in Los An­ge­les. Clark’s con­cern grew as he watched the num­ber of gang-re­lated killings in the city’s vi­o­lent south­ern swatch spike in early sum­mer. With agents, cash and equip­ment to spare, Clark ap­proached LAPD of­fi­cials with an un­usual of­fer to help.

The re­sults were strik­ing: More than two dozen homi­cide cases were solved dur­ing a first-of-its-kind col­lab­o­ra­tion of the two agen­cies.

“I’ve been do­ing this for a long time and I’ve never seen any­thing like this,” said vet­eran LAPD homi­cide Det. Sal LaBar­bera. “We were able to clear cases at a pace that we never would have been able to hit. Twenty-seven homi­cides in three months? That’s un­heard of.”

Though the FBI and LAPD have col­lab­o­rated be­fore, of­fi­cials from both agen­cies said the speed with which the im­pro­vised idea came to­gether, the scope of the as­sis­tance and its im­me­di­ate ef­fect were un­prece­dented.

Named Op­er­a­tion Save

Our Streets, the ef­fort be­gan July 1 and teamed six FBI agents with a few dozen LAPD homi­cide de­tec­tives who work in some of the city’s blood­i­est, most gangsat­u­rated neigh­bor­hoods. With the agents came half a dozen ve­hi­cles, badly needed com­put­ers and hard drives, and ac­cess to the FBI’s foren­sic lab­o­ra­tory and sur­veil­lance equip­ment. Most im­por­tantly, Clark ponied up money to cover the LAPD de­tec­tives’ over­time costs, al­low­ing them to forgo the depart­ment-wide pol­icy that sends of­fi­cers home on forced leave when they ac­crue too many hours of ad­di­tional work.

The money “kept us work­ing — al­lowed us to stay at it un­re­stricted, in the way we need to. With­out it, we would have been stuck keep­ing reg­u­lar of­fice hours,” La- Bar­bera said.

The ef­fect of the LAPD’s over­time pol­icy on homi­cide cases was first re­ported in The Times in April.

At the start, de­tec­tives and agents fo­cused on 13 re­cent killings in which the de­tec­tives be­lieved they had strong leads and a good chance of quick ar­rests. Within weeks, how­ever, the scope of the project ex­panded as the agents be­gan join­ing de­tec­tives when they rolled out to fresh crime scenes, as well as help­ing with cases go­ing back sev­eral years. In all, the teams worked on 78 homi­cides, LaBar­bera said.

Of­ten forced to wait for the LAPD’s over­worked crime lab to process DNA ev­i­dence and con­duct other foren­sic tests, LaBar­bera said, de­tec­tives got quicker re­sults from the FBI’s lab. Ad­vanced cell­phone track­ing technology was avail­able, as were sur­veil­lance vans out­fit­ted with equip­ment not owned by the LAPD.

The case of Shavonna Jones, a 30-year-old woman al­legedly shot to death by her es­tranged hus­band on May 22, un­der­scored the reach of the FBI. LAPD de­tec­tives had spent sev­eral weeks chas­ing dead ends through­out the re­gion, but lost the hus­band’s trail.

On in­for­ma­tion they gath­ered from prison in­mates who knew the man, FBI agents were able to trace him to an area out­side Minneapolis. Calls to the bureau’s Minneapolis field of­fice re­sulted in his ar­rest Aug. 12.

“Would we have solved the case? Prob­a­bly, but it would have taken three or four times as long,” LaBar­bera said.

Ar­rests were also made in Ne­vada and Ari­zona. The old­est case solved­went back two decades.

In all, agents and de­tec­tives in­ter­viewed more than 250 wit­nesses and sus­pects, served more than two dozen search war­rants and made 20 ar­rests, ac­cord­ing to LAPD of­fi­cials. In a few cases, the sus­pects whom po­lice con­cluded were re­spon­si­ble for the killings were found to have died.

If there was a down­side to the col­lab­o­ra­tion, LaBar­bera said, it was that it was a stark re­minder of what LAPD de­tec­tives might be able to do with more re­sources.

“There shouldn’t be a cap or a limit when it comes to some­body’s life,” he said. “If it were my kid, I’d want 1,000 peo­ple out there work­ing around the clock.”

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