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Proponent of Battering Ram : LAPD Names New Boss for Northeast Division

February 20, 1986|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles police captain in charge of citywide investigation of drug trafficking, including use of a battering ram to enter cocaine "rock houses," has been assigned to command the Northeast Division.

Noel K. Cunningham, 46, will assume command this week of the Northeast Division, which covers the Los Angeles communities of Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Silver Lake, Glassell Park, Atwater, Los Feliz and Mount Washington. He had commanded the field enforcement section of the department's narcotics division since November, 1984.

Predecessor Quit Abruptly

Cunningham, a 20-year department veteran, was selected to replace Capt. Robert M. Smitson, who will retire effective Saturday. Smitson abruptly left the job Feb. 4, just two weeks after taking the post and one day before he was cleared of allegations that he received overtime pay while moonlighting as a college instructor.

Smitson was appointed to the post Jan. 12 to replace Capt. Robert Taylor, who was named to head the Hollywood Division.

Cunningham had been in charge of investigating drug trafficking by street dealers and those selling a concentrated rocklike form of cocaine from fortified rock houses. He had the authority to order the department's controversial armored military vehicle, with its 14-foot battering ram, to break into houses where police suspected that cocaine and other drugs were being sold.

"My claim to fame has been the use of the battering ram," Cunningham said. "I did a lot to advocate its use."

Ram Used This Week

The battering ram, which Cunningham said had been idle in recent months because of a decline in rock house trafficking, was used by police Tuesday night to smash into a house in South-Central Los Angeles believed to be a narcotics dealing center. Cunningham said the sale of rock cocaine, a form of the drug that is smoked, is the city's largest drug problem.

"We are now finding more street sales as opposed to rock house sales," he said. The battering ram "put the fear in dope dealers that, should they try to build a fortress, we will go after them."

Cunningham also has been commanding officer of the Hollenbeck Division's detective bureau and the patrol section of Central Division.

He will be one of four black commanders of the department's 19 divisions, and the first to command an area that is not predominantly black, Cunningham said.

Cunningham has a bachelor's degree in political science from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a master's degree in public communications from Pepperdine University.

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