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Santa Ana top cop's legacy: fighting gangs

June 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters is leaving a legacy of being a tough fighter of gang violence. He's leaving as police chief after nearly 25 years to become Santa Ana city manager and police commissioner.

In a city with some 5,000 documented gang members in 100 different gangs, Walters has made his mark.

For his own safety, a 27-year-old former gang member only wants to be identified as "Steven." He talks about the first time he helped kill a rival gang member in Santa Ana.

"In the gang life when you kill somebody, your homies give you more props, show you more respect," said "Steven."

Police say Steven was connected to three gang-related murders in the early 2000s. He testified against his fellow gang members and served four years in jail.

"When I was in the county jail facing 25 to life, everything that I had done, I thought it was stupid," said Steven.

Steven admits gang life is not easy because of the persistence of Santa Ana Police.

Officials say so far this year they've seen a nearly 40-percent drop in violent gang crimes.

Police Chief Paul Walters was recognized by the Orange County Gang Investigators Association for starting a special gang homicide unit. It's the only one in the county, set up in 1988 when he became chief.

The detectives use certain skills, working around the clock right after a crime hoping to catch suspects early, knowing that victims of gang murders are often reluctant to talk.

"The reason they don't want to cooperate is they want to go handle it themselves, which means more violence and retaliation and it's never going to end," said Walters.

Officials say the gang homicide unit has led to the arrest and prosecution of more than 150 murder suspects. Authorities say the special unit solves more than 60 percent of its gang homicides.

That's a success rate that Steven admits many gang members are well aware.

"You do a murder in Santa Ana, one way or another you're going to get caught," said Steven.


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