SOUTH GATE — Police are reducing some non-emergency services and eliminating homicide investigations because of budget limitations, Police Chief Ronald George has announced.
The cutbacks are in response to the defeat in November of a proposed tax that police had hoped would pay for more officers.
Police response time to less serious crimes, such as thefts of car stereos, may increase from 20 minutes to as long as an hour, or officers may not respond at all, George said.
"In some cases we'll probably not go to the scene of minor crimes, but will be asking citizens to come into the station to fill out reports," George said.
Police will continue to respond as soon as possible to major crimes such as burglaries and robberies in progress or life-threatening emergencies, George said. On the average, South Gate police get to the scenes of those crimes within 3 1/2 minutes, George said.
"I know we will be getting some complaints (about not responding to lesser crimes) but we can no longer afford the niceties. We'll try and make the transition as painless as possible," George added.
The chief of the 89-officer force had warned of service cutbacks if voters failed to approve a tax on monthly telephone bills to help pay for 10 more officers, five more civilian police employees and new equipment.
As a result, George said, the department has asked the county Sheriff's Department to investigate homicides in South Gate, a service provided regularly to small police departments. About eight or nine homicides occur in the city every year. Three South Gate homicide detectives have been reassigned to investigate other major crimes, he said.
Earlier this month, eight officers were reassigned to a new Crime Impact Team to concentrate on serious crimes. Four of the officers were from the patrol division, and two each were from the narcotics squad and grand theft auto squad.
The team, which dons black jackets with gold lettering and rides in unmarked police vehicles, has been assigned initially to concentrate on a significant increase in stolen vehicles, George said.
Crime Rates Rose
Although major crimes in the city rose 5% last year, the number of auto thefts increased 18.6% to 981. The stolen cars generally are stripped, and the parts are sold, he said.
"We think gangs are heavily involved in grand theft auto crimes. So, by fighting grand theft auto crimes we are also fighting the gangs," George said. He estimated that there are 17 known active gangs with about 1,700 members in the city of 80,000.
A 24-hour telephone hot line was installed last week to allow people to report crime tips that the team will follow up on, George said.
Lt. Doug Christ, the impact team's supervisor, said it has been very successful in the first eight days of work, making 53 arrests, including eight arrests for stolen vehicles. The other arrests involve charges ranging from possession of a deadly weapon to burglary. George said the number of arrests is much higher than it would have been without the team.
Christ said: "These are pro-active arrests, as opposed to someone calling us. We went out and generated them. We went out and found them (through surveilance) by being on the streets."
Last week, George described the Crime Impact Team plan to City Council members and other officials, who approved.
Councilman William H. DeWitt said: "It is an economic fact of life, we can only do so much with the resources we have. I hope we will be able to satisfy most of the people. Time will tell."
Bruce Spragg, city administrator, said: "We are trying to make the best use of our resources by re-shifting them. There will be some complaints about the slow response, but that is the price we must pay."
Five positions in the department were eliminated last year because of budget cuts.