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California Central District Drug Threat Assessment
May 2001


Map of California with the Central California U.S. Attorney District shown enlarged.

The Central District includes the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. It is the most populated federal judicial district in the United States, exceeding 15.5 million. Los Angeles, with 3.8 million people--an estimated 8,146 persons per square mile--is the largest city in the state, and the second largest in the United States. Four other cities within the district have year 2000 population estimates in excess of 200,000 people: Long Beach (457,600), Santa Ana (317,700), Anaheim (310,700), and Riverside (259,700). The district also boasts one of the best transportation infrastructures in the country. It has an extensive coastline, intricate highway and railway systems, and a number of regional and international airports.

Fast Facts

Central California
(Central U.S. Attorney District)
(statewide data marked *)

Population (1999) 15.5 million
Median household income (2000 estimate) $56,333
*Unemployment rate (2000) 5.0%
Land area 32,918 square miles
Shoreline 350 miles
*Capital Sacramento
Other principal cities Anaheim, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Ana
Number of counties 7
Principal industries Entertainment, financial services, manufacturing, biotechnology

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The Central District's coastline extends over 350 miles from the San Diego County line in the south to the Monterey County line in the north and is home to two of the busiest maritime ports in the world, Long Beach and Los Angeles. The Port of Long Beach is the nation's busiest maritime cargo container facility, while the Port of Los Angeles ranks second; more than 7.9 million 20-foot cargo container units moved into the two ports in fiscal year (FY) 1999.

Los Angeles is also home to the world's third busiest airport--Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Over 64 million people and over 2 million tons of goods were moved through LAX in 1999. The airport handles over 1,000 cargo flights each day; 50 percent of this activity is international in origin or destination. 

Residents of the Central District primarily depend on automobiles for transportation and the Los Angeles area has one of the most intricate highway systems in the world. Of these, Interstates 5, 10, 15, and 40 connect the district to the rest of the nation. Interstate 5 runs from the U.S.-Canada border to the U.S.-Mexico border and links Los Angeles to other key West Coast cities such as San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. Interstate 10 originates in Santa Monica, California, and runs across the United States to I-95 in Jacksonville, Florida. Interstate 15 originates in the district and runs northeast through Las Vegas, Nevada, to the U.S.-Canada border in Montana. Interstate 40 originates at I-15 in the district and runs east, terminating in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition, state highways 1 and 101 are extensively traveled coastal roadways.

The district is serviced by transcontinental and regional passenger rail lines and two major freight railways. Many of the regional routes connect the district to San Diego, near the U.S.-Mexico border, while the transcontinental route extends east to the heartland of the country.

The Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) encompasses Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. The Los Angeles HIDTA considers the overland transportation of illicit drugs the number one threat. The Los Angeles area is a major storage and transshipment point for illicit drugs smuggled to other states, as well as to Canada and some Pacific Rim countries. Los Angeles is a major transshipment point for the exportation of drug proceeds to other countries.

All major drugs of abuse are readily available in the Central District. According to law enforcement officials, powdered and crack cocaine and methamphetamine present the most significant threats. The district is a major methamphetamine production source not only for the state but also for much of the country. Mexican black tar heroin is the predominant heroin marketed within the district. Marijuana is the most available drug in the district; both marijuana transshipment and domestic cannabis cultivation are significant threats to the district. Mexican marijuana is widely available and least expensive. The abuse of other dangerous drugs, such as MDMA, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), and Rohypnol, usually associated with rave parties, is significantly affecting the district. Of particular concern is that younger party crowds, including teenagers, are abusing these drugs.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups control most of the drug distribution in the Los Angeles HIDTA. Mexican DTOs use underground networks to move or distribute illegal drugs, weapons, and aliens. These networks, typically based on family ties, impede law enforcement as undercover officers and confidential informants cannot infiltrate and gain access to the network.

The Los Angeles HIDTA identified 156 criminal DTOs operating regionally, nationally, and internationally. Of these, 76 percent (118) operate at the national (47) or international (71) level. The degree of involvement ranges from organizations engaging in all facets of the drug trade to organizations involved in a single activity, such as transportation. Sixty-three percent--primarily Mexican DTOs--traffic in cocaine. Many also are involved in the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine (44%) and the distribution of marijuana (15%) and heroin (13%). According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Arellano-Felix organization and, to a lesser extent, the Carrillo-Fuentes and Caro-Quintero organizations control trafficking and distribution activities within the Los Angeles Field Office's jurisdiction.

Drug-related arrest data are helpful in determining the overall drug problem. According to data from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs for Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura Counties, adult drug-related felonies and misdemeanors fluctuated between 1993 and 1997, reaching a high of almost 128,000 in 1997. In each of the years from 1993 to 1997, the number of adult drug-related felonies accounted for over half of all drug-related arrests. Juvenile drug-related arrests represented about 8 percent of all drug-related arrests in 1993 and remained relatively stable. (See Table 1.)

 Table 1. Adult and Juvenile Drug-Related Arrests, Central District of California, 1993-1997

Arrest Category

1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Adult Felony 65,723 73,740 71,140 66,962 72,999
Adult Misdemeanor 44,328 50,984 52,362 51,009 54,988
Total Adult Drug-Related Arrests 110,051 124,724 123,502 117,971 127,987
Juvenile 8,391 10,711 11,259 11,423 11,331
Total Drug-Related Arrests 118,442 135,435 134,761 129,394 139,318

    Source: California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, 1997.

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While drug-related arrests have slightly increased, crime rate statistics indicate that the overall crime rate in the Central District gradually declined between 1993 and 1998, as did the violent crime rate. Property crime rates decreased 41 percent from 14,255 per 100,000 persons in 1993 to 8,377 per 100,000 persons in 1998. Willful homicide rates decreased 42 percent from 67 per 100,000 persons in 1993 to 38 per 100,000 persons in 1998.

Although there was a 42 percent decline in the homicide rate for the entire district between 1993 and 1998, according to a news report, the number of homicides in Los Angeles increased from 192 homicides in 1999 to 250 in the first half of 2000. The report further states that a possible resurgence in gang activity may be a major cause of the recent increase in violence and homicides in Los Angeles, more than 40 percent of which were gang-related.

Increased law enforcement pressure in urban areas is causing gangs to establish new territories and markets in smaller communities and rural areas. As a result, gang violence is spreading from urban to rural areas. Within the Central District, Los Angeles County has an estimated 1,350 gangs with 152,000 members. Most notable are the Mexican Mafia, Bloods, Crips, and the 18th Street Gang. Many of these Los Angeles-based gangs have chapters in cities throughout the United States. These gangs are extremely violent and create harmful environments that threaten public safety.


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