A temporary sheriff's drug task force, created earlier this year to "take care of neighborhood problems" and then discontinued, will resume patrol of six Southeast cities that have agreed to finance the four-man undercover squad until June.
Rather than targeting "the big guy" drug dealer, the task force will concentrate on drug traffickers and addicts who loiter around residential areas committing drug-related crimes such as robbery and burglary, said Lakewood sheriff's station Lt. John Anderson.
During a 90-day trial period that began in May, officers assigned to the task force were allowed to move freely through the six cities--Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood and Paramount--without regard for geographical boundaries. The sheriff provides the police coverage for these six cities, but usually deputies patrol within designated areas within the station's jurisdiction.
200 Felony Arrests
The temporary unit made 200 felony arrests ranging from narcotics possession to grand theft and recovered about $50,000 worth of stolen property. An additional 82 arrests were mostly misdemeanor drug charges.
"We decided to take a bunch of people (criminals) off the streets," said Anderson, who added that the station will use the task force to handle the routine "day in and day out" complaints from residents about drug activity in their neighborhoods.
The four narcotics officers assigned to the station by sheriff's headquarters are often so busy investigating tips or doing paper work that they do not have time to respond to those calls, said Anderson, who plans to reactivate the task force in December.
Artesia City Manager B. Eugene Romig said that while the "cost is minimal" to Artesia, the task force could have a "direct and swift impact" on drug crimes in the area.
'Drug Activity Curtailed'
"When it was in force, the drug activity seemed to be curtailed," said Bellflower City Councilman William J. Pendleton. "You have to justify the dollars . . . but when you have a $20-million (municipal) budget it's no big deal for the result that you get."
To pay the task force's $268,000 annual cost, Anderson and Lakewood Capt. Steve Batchelor asked Artesia and Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest of the six cities, to each contribute $12,000 while the other four cities would each pay about $60,000.
Five cities have already approved funds for the task force to operate until June, when the sheriff's station and city administrators will re-evaluate the squad's performance. Anderson said that Paramount, scheduled to vote on its share Tuesday, has tentatively agreed to the expenditure.
The task force is similar to a narcotics unit at the Norwalk sheriff's station, where an additional five undercover deputies and a secretary were hired more than a year ago with an average contribution of $122,000 by cities the station serves--La Mirada, Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs.
While Norwalk station administrators integrated the extra deputies with the narcotics officers assigned there, making it the largest sheriff's narcotics unit in the county with 10 investigators, Anderson said the Lakewood task force will report directly to the captain so he can "keep a handle on exactly what they're doing day to day."
Four new deputies will be hired to replace the officers, now on uniform patrol, who will be assigned to the task force, Anderson said.