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Sheriff's Station Under Fire From Norwalk City Council

April 14, 1985|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

NORWALK — City Council members are unhappy with the performance of the Norwalk sheriff's station and have asked for a study to determine whether the city would be better off with its own police department.

City officials concede that running their own department would probably cost more than the $3.6 million they paid for sheriff's services in the 1984-85 fiscal year, but council members said they have received an increasing number of complaints from residents about the need for more sheriff's patrols and about lack of response on calls for help.

The council asked City Administrator Ray Gibbs to plan the study, which may include a questionnaire survey of residents to find out if they are satisfied with sheriff's services.

Council members also were to hold a public meeting at noon Saturday at City Hall with a representative of Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, Undersheriff Ted vonMinden and Capt. Lee Baca, commander of the Norwalk sheriff's station, to discuss the station's service.

Three of five council members were critical of sheriff's station service at the council's meeting Monday. A fourth, Mayor Cecil Green, said he believed the station was "on the whole very good" and suffered only from a "communications problem" with city officials.

In an interview, Baca said the integrity of his department would "only be increased" after Saturday's meeting. He added that his station is "one of the best."

The station's 228 deputies patrol the cities of Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and La Mirada, as well as an unincorporated area in south Whittier.

Of the criticism expressed by some council members, Baca said "It's their job to call them as they see them. Of course, that doesn't mean they're always right."

VonMinden said he would discuss the sheriff station's services at the Saturday meeting and declined further comment.

Criticism of the station's services surfaced during the council meeting when a resident, Paula Cairo, said that she had asked for but did not get extra patrols in her neighborhood after a number of vehicle tires were slashed.

Baca said in the interview that extra patrols of Cairo's neighborhood off Sproul Street had been made and that more patrols would be made in the future.

At the meeting, council members discussed concerns about sheriff's services, including the need for more patrols of residential neighborhoods and extra patrols on weekends throughout the city to combat gang violence and vandalism.

In interviews later, council members described additional complaints they said they planned to air in the meeting with the undersheriff and Baca. They alleged a lack of communication between city officials and department administrators and a lack of responsiveness in some instances to requests for aid from residents.

"We've got a problem," said Mayor Pro Tem Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez, who is scheduled to take over as mayor Monday. "The job is not getting done, but I'm not sure if it's the guys out on the beat or if it's management."

At the council meeting, Rodriguez charged that vandalism in the city is increasing, citing police reports of tire slashings of 31 cars this month at the Ramada Inn. He also charged that the sheriff's station was ineffective in dealing with the increased crime.

"When are we going to start apprehending some of these people?" Rodriguez said. "When I hear people in our community saying they're afraid to go out at night,it gets a little ridiculous."

Baca said that in the 1983-84 fiscal year the Norwalk sheriff's station arrested 3,153 adults and 706 juveniles for offenses that most often included narcotics, drunken driving and burglary.

The rate of crime in the area patrolled by the Norwalk sheriff's station was lower on a per-capita basis than in South Gate, Downey and Long Beach and slightly higher than Whittier, according to statistics from the Sheriff's Department and police.

In an interview, council member Lou Banas said he was unhappy with what he termed Baca's "lack of professional honesty in dealing with the council in terms of giving his honest opinion without worrying about which way the political winds are blowing."

Banas said during council debates on whether the city should have a card club, Baca was reluctant to publicly discuss police concerns about card clubs. He said Baca also was reluctant to state opinions on whether the city should allow stores that sell groceries and gasoline to also sell alcohol.

On both issues, Banas charged that Baca "withheld his best professional judgment" from the council because of political considerations, such as whether council members were going to approve the proposals.

Baca said he publicly told a residents' committee studying the card club, as well as Banas privately, that permitting a card club to open in Norwalk would result in an increase in criminal activity, including loan-sharking, narcotics, cheating and the infiltration of the club's ownership by organized crime.

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