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LAPD-FBI operation solves two dozen homicide cases

September 29, 2010 |  8:09 pm

For months now, the budget crisis in Los Angeles has hamstrung and frustrated the city’s homicide detectives. With no money to pay them for the long hours of overtime they typically work, LAPD officials saw no choice but to force the 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 when he watched the number of gang-related killings in the city’s violent southern swatch surge in the summer’s early months.

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 between 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.”

Although the FBI and LAPD have collaborated before, officials from both agencies said the speed with which this improvised idea came together, the scope of the assistance and the immediate impact 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 gang-saturated neighborhoods.

With the agents came half a dozen vehicles, badly needed computers and hard drives, 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,” LaBarbera said.

--Joel Rubin