LOS ANGELES -- A 14-year-old girl was killed by Hispanic gang members who police say were targeting blacks. A 9-year-old girl died after being hit by a stray bullet as gang members exchanged shots near her home. A police officer was wounded in a gun battle with a suspected gangster.
The soaring violence is prompting police and politicians to promise one of the toughest crackdowns against gangs in city history.
"This is the monster, this is what drives people's fears," said Deputy Chief Charles Beck, who oversees a South Los Angeles district where gang-related crime jumped 24 percent during the year ending in November.
However, the effort has met skepticism in the city that has an estimated 700 gangs with 40,000 members -- about four for every police officer -- and that gave birth to some of the nation's most notorious gangs, including the Crips, Bloods, and Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.
"It's too big, it's too entrenched, it's too intimately connected with the urban setup here," Malcolm Klein, a gang specialist at the University of Southern California, said of the gang problem. "You can reduce it. But the idea you can somehow eliminate it is ridiculous."
Gangs have thrived for generations in Los Angeles, but the especially violent past year caught police brass off guard.
Citywide crime rates fell in 2006, but gang-related offenses increased 14 percent -- the first hike in four years. In the San Fernando Valley, gang killings, assaults, robberies, and other crimes jumped 42 percent.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has appealed to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez for millions of dollars in antigang funds and for more federal prosecutors to pursue racketeering and other charges mostly used in the past against organized crime.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has assigned agents to an antigang task force in the San Fernando Valley to work alongside police deputized as federal officers.
Authorities promise to increase enforcement in afflicted neighborhoods.
The officers will be armed with injunctions forbidding gang members from assembling in certain areas, lawsuits aimed at shutting down gang hangouts as nuisances, and probation orders barring gang members from returning to their neighborhoods after their release from prison.
In some ways, the approach mirrors a multi agency Boston campaign in the 1990s, known as the Boston Miracle, that resulted in a decline in gun violence and murder rates.
Past efforts in Los Angeles, however, have produced mixed results.
"We've seen this movie before," said Mario Corona, a former member of the Pacoima Criminals gang in the San Fernando Valley who works to rehabilitate gang members.
The city has been hampered in the past by a lack of resources and changing department priorities, according to a city-funded report by civil rights attorney Connie Rice.
Residents are demanding renewed action while trying to stay out of the line of fire.