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Budget Cuts Could Ax Youth Gang Counselor at Bell Gardens High

November 01, 1987|RITA PYRILLIS | Times Staff Writer

BELL GARDENS — Police Officer Ed Taylor has been keeping a watchful eye on the 3,000 students at Bell Gardens High School since January when he joined the Youth Services Bureau--the city's juvenile crime diversion team.

In a city plagued with gang problems, Taylor's presence on the campus makes faculty and parents feel safe.

"With Ed around we run a tight ship and because we run such a tight ship, the problems in the community have not spilled over onto the campus," Principal Frances M. Riley said. "I can't imagine what would happen if he weren't here."

But now, school officials are worried and uncertain about how much longer Taylor will be patrolling the campus full time. When the financially-pressed Montebello Unified School District cut $7.3 million from its budget in September included was a $54,000 chunk that had been intended for the youth services program.

Request to Restore Funding

Riley said she has asked the Board of Education and City Council to find a way to restore that funding. Otherwise, youth services officials say they will be forced to take Taylor away from Bell Gardens High.

Some school board members say they might be able to give youth services a portion of $1.5 million in state funding that is due the district this year, according to district business manager Stephen Phillips. School board President Arthur Chavez said most of that money will be used to pump up the district's dwindling reserves, but any left over will probably be divided between youth services and an after-school program at the intermediate schools.

"These two programs will be priorities," Chavez said.

Taylor, who also does gang diversion and drug and child abuse counseling at the high school, is one of two youth services field officers in the school district. The other officer patrols the district's six intermediate schools in Bell Gardens and Montebello, and also counsels and teaches gang diversion classes.

Taylor said he sees the officers as "important links between the Police Department and the students."

"I know these kids and a lot of them know me," Taylor said on a recent stroll through the campus. "Sometimes sitting down and talking to them is more effective than calling in the police right away. But if we have to do that, we have the resources immediately available."

The high school has had a youth services officer since the city-run bureau was formed in 1971, Director Richard Martinez said.

Offering a variety of counseling services, the bureau is one of 16 model programs in the state. Its $239,000 operating budget is also supported by the city, which contributes $93,000, and the state Department of Youth Authority, which contributes $92,000.

Although Martinez says the high school officer is "an integral part of the program," if a position must be cut, the officer would be the first to go.

"Unfortunately, because there are so many child abuse cases and programs at the intermediate schools, there would be a big impact and more of an outcry from the principals at those six schools if we took their officer away," Martinez said.

Board of Education member Eleanor Chow suggested that the city pick up the entire tab for the program--a proposal city officials oppose.

"I don't think the city should assume the entire responsibility," Bell Gardens Mayor Marvin Graves said. "The school district needs to make a commitment to the program."

While city and school district officials wait to see if any funding will be made available, high school faculty members and parents are growing more concerned.

"Having him (Taylor) there is a great crime deterrent," said Carolyn Dunbar, Bell Gardens High School PTSA president, whose three nieces attend the campus. "It makes me frightened to think we won't have him anymore."

Familiar With Gangs

Riley recalled a recent incident when a few members of a local gang called the "Junior Mafia" appeared on the campus looking for a fight. Taylor's close ties to the Police Department's gang detail and his familiarity with different gangs enabled him to quickly defuse the situation, Riley said.

"Without his help it would have taken us a lot longer to identify the problem and do something about it," Riley said. "We would have called in the police, they would have filed a report and we would have waited. In situations like these you have to act quickly."

Riley said she has urged the school board and the City Council to restore some of the funding and keep an officer on the campus.

However, Bell Gardens Police Chief William L. Donohoe, said the youth services officer is "not critically essential to the program."

Most "of the schools in the United States do not have school resource officers," he said. "I think the school can rely on with confidence that the rest of the department would respond to the needs of the high school."

But Julia Asmus, a former PTSA president who now serves on the youth services advisory board, disagrees.

"I think the students would be the losers if they lost the resource officer," Asmus said.

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