By Matthew Wells
In Compton, Los Angeles
Most small cities in the United States are desperate to put themselves on the map, but after decades of rap tributes and breathless news headlines, Compton is praying for a quiet life.
Compton: Hoping for a quiet life
Last year was a deadly one for the South Los Angeles suburb with 67 murders - a figure that almost matches the number of full-time police officers on the Compton beat.
It is a grim total that may well earn it the title of US latest murder capital, once the official nationwide statistics have been compiled in a few months' time.
While the national homicide trend was down, Compton spiked dramatically with a 70% increase on the previous year.
It is a city that has spawned much sporting talent. Tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams grew up here, but in a tragic twist, their elder sister was also murdered here.
Worldwide, Compton is best-known as the home of gangsta rap, and a cursory search through any online music library reveals a litany of lurid numbers.
Driving through its largely neat and tidy streets in the California sunshine, it is easy to imagine that the terrifying world of gang-led violence and mayhem is exaggerated hype - then you meet the long-suffering locals.
"You have to watch your back all the time," says Crystal Ortiz, a student at a special high school for children deemed "at risk" from indoctrination by the 50-plus gangs which exist within the city limits.
"It doesn't look bad. Basically, it's the people make Compton look bad," she adds.
Her classmate Kenneth Taylor is more downbeat: "You've got to worry about getting robbed, getting shot. Little kids get into gangs in Compton - it's part of life," he said with a shrug.
One of the driving forces behind the school, and the wider campaign to stop the cycle of gang violence, is Father Stan Bosch, an energetic Catholic priest with pale blue eyes that seem to shine.
"Usually there's a tag-team associated with a gang," he said, referring to the graffiti artists who can provoke a gang execution simply by drawing on someone else's turf," he says.
"We have an impossible time keeping it off. The only defence from graffiti is painting over it as soon as possible."
As we drive through the streets, Father Stan shows me how mundane the gang boundaries are, and points to a wider division: "The structural isolation in the city is very real... Latinos and African-Americans - they live in different worlds."
One of the parish stalwarts, Yolanda Torres, waves as we drive by. Stopping to talk, it became clear how deep-seated violence is here. Her son was shot in the leg a few months ago, and his assailant is still at large.
She does not think the police are interested in solving the crime, and the shooter is still "freely causing terror", she adds.
Capt Hamilton says public intolerance of gun crime is growing
Down at the sheriff's headquarters, that impression is hotly disputed by Captain Eric Hamilton, the man with the thankless task of trying to keep Compton's streets safe.
Like everyone here, he admits he could do with more officers, and since the turn of the year, his boss, the LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, has temporarily deployed a group of homicide specialists to Compton.
The statistics at least, have shown a major improvement. There have been a handful of homicides so far this year, versus 17 at the same point last year.
The most important shift that is taking place, is in public intolerance of gun crime, says Captain Hamilton.
"The citizens are saying 'This is too many'... We're working closer together and they're more active and participatory."
Others in the greater Los Angeles area are not so charitable in assessing Compton's ability to tame its criminal class. They argue that it is too little, too late, and simply a temporary fix.
LAPD chief William Bratton argues that his officers' success has pushed gangsters Compton's way, and the city is not prepared to pay for more officers full time.
"Sorry, you get what you pay for," he said in December.
At Compton City Hall, the hard-pressed City Manager, Barbara Kilroy, is happy to answer questions, unlike the elected mayor, who did not want to be interviewed.
The previous administration became mired in a corruption scandal, and also made the controversial decision to disband the city's own police force, and tender the job out to the surrounding county.
Ms Kilroy says she is hoping to free up money for more officers soon, but there is little that local politicians could do to stop the gangs.
"Crime and gang problems are essentially sociological - they go to the society as a whole," she says.
One of the founders of the notorious Crips gang in Compton, "Rock" Johnson, became a reformer following 17 years in prison. He has just opened an office on the city's main street, as an offshoot from the Amer-I-Can gang intervention programme.
He is optimistic that Compton residents may soon feel a respite from the daily fear of drive-bys and random shootings: "Compton's no different from any other community in this world... Every community has an opportunity, has a chance."
Sitting in his cool and peaceful office, opposite Our Lady of Victory Church, Father Stan is also hopeful that with so much positive energy around, Compton can put its "gangsta" identity to rest.
But what is lacking, is any real co-ordination between the disparate, and often ethnically divided, reform groups, which are working almost at cross-purposes it seems.
"If we relinquish our obsession with image, and help to build bridges, then we're going to model something different," said Father Stan.
"We all suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome [in Compton]. The response to trauma is that one goes numb, and goes to sleep. That's really our infirmity here."