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Inglewood Urges Area Task Force to Combat Drugs

August 28, 1986|MICHELE L. NORRIS | Times Staff Writer

Inglewood is proposing a narcotics task force that would provide a large pool of manpower and equipment to fight drugs in the South Bay.

"Trying to chase drugs out of one city is like putting a Band-Aid over cancer--you might cover part of the problem but it's still spreading like wildfire somewhere else," Police Chief Raymond L. Johnson said. "We need to place even and constant pressure on the problem before we can realistically expect it to go away."

Johnson has asked about a dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the South Bay to join the task force, which he said would help reduce track drug trafficking in neighboring cities and make it easier to go after big-time dealers.

Inglewood police--who hope to start the effort in 1987--are still waiting for formal responses to letters they mailed to the agencies last week. Most department heads interviewed by The Times expressed guarded enthusiasm about the proposal.

Comment Reserved

State and federal officials reserved comment except to say that their offices already had established informal interjurisdictional efforts with several local communities.

"The big operators don't operate in just one city, the roam all over the place," said Ray Trippichio of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's airport division. Cooperative efforts among the agency and local police departments have resulted in several large drug busts in recent years, he said.

Nearly every local agency expressed support for the task force idea, but some--especially the smaller agencies--fear that the it would overlook their problems to deal with larger and more visible hot spots in other areas.

"I would like to see Redondo Beach contribute to the task force, but the big question is, how much of the effort will be used within the city of Redondo Beach to warrant our sending men to work with the task force?" said Detective Robert Sevilla, who works in the Redondo Beach narcotics unit.

"I hope they work out those questions or some of the smaller cities might not join the program."

'Long Overdue'

In Hermosa Beach, Sgt. William Cox of the police investigation unit said the task force is "long overdue," but cautioned that narcotics strategies used by Inglewood and other larger agencies may not work in the beach communities, where most drug dealing takes place behind closed doors instead of on the street.

"A task force is an excellent idea but it would probably be nicer to have a beach cities task force," Cox said. "But if this is all we have, I think everyone will be happy to get this thing going."

Inglewood police said smaller cities could reap the greatest benefits because they generally lack the money or personnel to combat their growing drug problems.

Police reports show that drug arrests have increased in nearly every South Bay city for two years. Police attribute part of that rise to the growing popularity of cocaine--particularly rock cocaine, a highly addictive form of the drug. Almost 75% of all narcotics arrests in the South Bay now involve cocaine, police say. Just one year ago, they say, the drug was rarely seen in the suburban communities.

"Every city is experiencing an increase in narcotics trafficking but the smaller cities just can't cope with those changes," said Lt. James Butts, who heads Inglewood's undercover narcotics task force and is helping to organize the South Bay effort. "If there was a central manpower pool, smaller cities could call upon the force for help whenever they needed it. This would take the burden off a lot of them."

There are several multi-jurisdictional efforts among large agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department and the county Sheriff's Departments and state and federal agencies, but few in California involve smaller police departments, Police Chief Johnson said.

Focus on Hot Spots

Under Inglewood's proposal, the task force would draw equipment and one or two officers from each police and drug enforcement agency participating in the program. Police departments that could not afford to deploy officers or equipment could still participate as information resources, Johnson said. The multi-jurisdictional team would focus on hot spots for street sales and would track suspected major drug dealers operating in the South Bay.

"If one city has a problem with narcotics trafficking you can assume that sooner or later everyone will share the problem," Butts said. "If police chase them out of their city they will just find somewhere else to go."

Indeed, several South Bay police departments said they have seen an influx of drug dealers and customers since Inglewood's undercover narcotics task force all but closed down the city's drug centers.

After three months and almost 800 arrests, the so-called "drug supermarkets" have been transformed to relatively quiet areas, and customers who used to roam Inglewood streets now go elsewhere, Inglewood police said.

Drug Traffic Increase

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