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Deputies Join Youths to Show Friendship That's Behind Badge

April 06, 1986|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

"We want kids to have positive contact. I'm a law enforcement officer but I'm there to help them," said Dredd, who assists boxing coaches with setting up the rings, sparring with the youths and encouraging them. As with the other deputies who work in the program, the only thing that identifies him as a law enforcement officer is a white sport shirt with the Sheriff's Department logo and the words "Deputy Community Specialist."

The thrust behind the program is to "do something worthwhile for kids who are out there and need it," Dredd said. Besides Richard, Dredd has also worked closely with a former "street fighter," Eric Orozco, a 16-year-old student at Frontier High School in Whittier.

Orozco said the encouragement he has received from coaches and Dredd has led to his decision to continue training for boxing. "They keep telling me I have potential. I like boxing. It's keeps me separated from a lot of things.

"I used to hang around with the wrong kind of people. Now I'm getting into boxing," Orozco said.

He attributes his change in attitude to Dredd. He never before trusted law enforcement officers, he said.

"I had a different feeling toward them," he said. "I didn't like being around them at all." But now, he said, he realizes that the deputies are "just trying to help us and encourage us to do the best for ourselves."

Youths like Richard Ortiz and Orozco who need more one-to-one contact have been targeted for the outreach phase of the program. The outreach program calls for two deputies--Dredd and Phillip Moreno--to become "big brothers" to selected children.

The children will be referred by the city's psychologist, Anthony Lopez, who will train the deputies. Targeted children will include those who have the "potential of becoming involved in a deviant kind of behavior" such as drug and alcohol abuse, gang activity and burglary, Latham said.

Lopez said the deputies will be "impromptu counsel models" who will provide advice when the youth needs it. They will have to be sensitive and listen with a "third ear" and respond to a child when given the opportunity, Lopez said.

Moreno, a sheriff's deputy for 19 years, said that, although subjects may "get pretty heavy at times," young people need a chance to talk things out.

"A lot of kids need it. Either the parents are separated or divorced, and they are left out in the cold. They need somebody" to talk to, he said.

When Moreno--who has been part of the Deputy Community Specialist Program since its inception--starts working as an outreach counselor, he will continue with the Tiny Tots program, where he works with 3- and 4-year-olds.

Helping young children is especially crucial because "they won't be afraid of policemen or authority figures when they grow up," Moreno said.

"A lot of them need . . . guidelines. They're our future. Kids deserve the right to have an opportunity to be (the) best they can be," Moreno said.

To many of the deputies, the time spent wearing their "community hat" pays off when they are on the beat.

Gil Flores, who assists coaches in the city gymnastics program, said: "What I get out of it personally is helping (to) deter crime before it happens. (We) sway kids to not choose an involvement in crime."

Dredd added that he wants to help give these kids "some direction in their life."

"I'm there because I want to be there. I'm not there to look over their shoulders and make them do right, but to encourage them and say I care.

"If I can have an impact on three or four kids in a period of one year, I feel I've done my job," Dredd said.

But the program also gives deputies another window into the community.

"It's not just cops and robbers. It gives me a chance to get involved with the other side. I'm not just seeing the bad but I'm seeing the good," Moreno said.

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