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West Hollywood Sheriff's Command Changes Hands

November 23, 1986|STEPHEN BRAUN | Times Staff Writer

Capt. James Cook, who commanded the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department station in West Hollywood for the past two years, has been transferred, leaving the city with dramatic reductions in crime and lingering questions about police treatment of homosexuals and the homeless.

Cook, 49, a 24-year veteran, is assuming command of the newly formed Juvenile Investigative Bureau, a detective division responsible for the investigation of child-abuse cases and monitoring of all Juvenile Court cases.

Cook's replacement is Capt. Mark Squiers, 42, a 20-year veteran who most recently commanded the Sheriff's Department's Malibu station. Squiers, who has also run the department's training academy, worked as a patrol deputy in West Hollywood in the late 1960s.

Squiers inherits a formidable police command in West Hollywood, a 1.9-square-mile, densely populated urban village. Police estimate that each day, West Hollywood's resident population of 37,000 more than doubles as visitors, shoppers, workers--and career criminals--clog the city's commercial districts and residential neighborhoods.

Active in Community

Cook's departure came as a surprise to many community activists, who had grown accustomed to his presence during West Hollywood's turbulent first two years of existence. "He's had a very active role in this community," said Ruth Williams, an activist who has worked closely with the Sheriff's Department. "He's shown a lot of sensitivity in a place that can get very controversial. We're going to miss him."

Cook won high marks from community leaders for increasing police visibility in the area and for policies that led to an 11% drop in the rate of major crime over the past year (the major crime rate has dropped another 6% over the past four months, Cook noted).

"The figures don't lie," City Councilman John Heilman said. "Crime is decreasing, and Jim had a lot to do with it. The general perception in the community is that the Sheriff's Department is doing a good job."

Cook also played a large role in a series of disputes between the Sheriff's Department and City Council members and other city officials over police relations with the gay community and, most recently, with the homeless.

"Basically, Jim reported the official Sheriff's Department line when there were disagreements," Mayor Stephen Schulte said. "We just want to be certain that we get a Sheriff's Department that tailors its policies to fit the needs of this city."

Retained by Contract

Cook had run the West Hollywood station since April, 1984. At that time, the county provided law enforcement to the area, then an unincorporated territory. After the city's incorporation in November, 1984, the newly elected City Council decided to retain the Sheriff's Department by contract instead of forming its own police force.

"There have been enormous changes in this city and you constantly find yourself readjusting," Cook said, adding that the creation of several new city commissions in the coming months--including a Public Safety Commission--will force Squiers, too, to adapt.

The most helpful change, Cook said, was the City Council's decision to pay for an expansion of the staff at his station. Since July, 1985, aided by an annual city budget allocation of more than $7 million, Cook has been able to increase the number of deputies from 90 to 120. "With more deputies we've been able to strengthen crime deterrence and prevention," he said.

City officials say he has used his new officers well, heightening the deputies' visibility by adding foot patrols in high-crime areas and getting more squad cars on the streets during each shift. Cook also became a popular figure among community groups, persuading residents to increase their participation in Neighborhood Watch programs. The number of Neighborhood Watch groups has grown from eight to 38 over the past two years.

Faster Response

"People are still concerned about the level of crime, but I think there's a perception that the deputies are out there," Heilman said. "They've been responding faster to crimes and their cars are seen around more often. That's reassuring to people."

Cook said that by fielding one-man patrol cars instead of two-man cars, he was able to increase the number of cars on the street from five or six each shift to as many as 14. "We're not simply throwing dollars at the problems," he said. "We've been using our resources well."

As the deputies' presence has been heightened, so have their contacts with city residents and visitors. Each month, Cook estimated, West Hollywood deputies are involved in 4,000 official contacts with the public (contacts which result in arrests or citations) and 5,000 other contacts.

But along with the increased contacts have come complaints from some gay leaders about police harassment of homosexuals. The complaints prompted the City Council earlier this year to provide funds for a sensitivity training program for sheriff's deputies.

Deputies Transferred

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