It's the only "supermarket" in Van Nuys that police are happy to see going out of business.
The "supermarket" is Woodley Avenue Park, which police say had long been the most notorious spot in the San Fernando Valley for open drug sales, a place where drivers pulled into the parking lot, bought their drugs and left.
But police say the park, a focal point of drug traffic for two years, appears to be running out of customers and sellers. For the first time in a long time, there are more picnics than drug deals in the park, which is between Burbank and Victory boulevards.
"Woodley Park is dead as far as drugs is concerned," Sgt. Mario Mascolo of the Los Angeles Police Department said. "We used to make all kinds of arrests there, and then it went down to at least once or twice a week. But now it's down to almost nothing. We've been hitting it real hot and heavy and the work has finally paid off."
Civilian Volunteers Helped
Police said the park was targeted for increased police patrols, undercover operations and surveillance by a group of civilian volunteers.
Officials said that although the open drug trade may have gone elsewhere, they have yet to determine the location that may become the new Woodley Park. They will continue to monitor the the park in Van Nuys and its surrounding parking lots, they said.
"Part of our job is keeping tabs on the problem area and, in this case, making sure it doesn't become a problem again," Capt. Roy Randolph said. "There is still minor activity at Woodley. But when it is contrasted with what came before, with the loyal and longstanding customer flow, it's more proper to call it just a location with sporadic activity rather than a supermarket."
During most of last year, police said they were frustrated with the popularity of the park, which they said drew people from as far away as Riverside and San Bernardino to buy drugs, primarily marijuana. A flow of cars, almost bumper-to- bumper, would come in and out of the parking lot during weekends and evenings. The customers included schoolchildren, gang members, business executives and housewives, authorities said.
In October, a police officer was run down by a car driven by one drug suspect observed by the officer in the park's parking lot. The officer received minor injuries and the suspect was later arrested.
More than 500 drug-related arrests were made at the park by Van Nuys patrol officers and narcotics bureau detectives last year. During a two-week period in October, 71 adults and six juveniles were arrested for offenses ranging from being under the influence of heroin to selling marijuana.
But since October, police have arrested only 18 people at the park for drug-related violations.
Police said their work at Woodley has been aided by a group of civilian volunteers who sat in vehicles across the street from the park to conduct surveillance of suspected drug dealing. Last September, with police supervision, 38 members of the group, which calls itself Van Nuys Area Hamwatch, made videotapes of activity in the park, resulting in 22 arrests.
Members of the volunteer unit were honored in the park Thursday by Councilman Ernani Bernardi "for their dedication and courage in their willingness to put themselves in a dangerous situation."
One of the Hamwatch members said he had known about the drug activity at the park but was taken aback when he saw the blatancy of the dealing.
"It really did bother me," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "There were children walking around all over the place. People driving by on Woodley Avenue just think it's people playing around, but they would never imagine what was actually going on."
Another police raid at the park came as part of a citywide crackdown on drugs conducted in early November. About 700 suspected dealers and users were arrested at drug hot spots throughout the city, 20 of them at Woodley Park, police said.
Police said that early efforts were concentrated on arresting drug sellers. Later they began concentrating on arresting customers. A patrol unit was dispatched at least once each police shift to monitor activities at the park, and officers would often walk around the benches and the playground. Police cars also were assigned to cite drug buyers as they drove away from the park.
"We attacked this thing like the Medfly," said Los Angeles Police Department Valley Bureau Chief Dan Sullivan.