BELLFLOWER — Booker T. Gilliam said several months ago it was difficult for him to drive out of his driveway on Eucalyptus Avenue because drug dealers and their customers blocked his exit.
"They would just be standing in the streets and in the driveways, openly dealing drugs," said Gilliam, 52. Last month, residents complained that the section of Eucalyptus between Alondra Boulevard and Vista Street was a marketplace where rock cocaine, marijuana and other drugs were sold openly.
But Gilliam and other residents attending a city-sponsored party Tuesday said there are fewer drug dealings and drug-related crimes now because of the recent crackdown by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
'Kids Can Play Outside'
"The streets are almost empty. Kids can play outside. Families can walk down the streets without being intimidated by punks," said Dick Castle, 57.
John Moore, a neighbor, said: "We still see it (drug dealing) but it is not as prevalent."
The sheriff's recent efforts, which included both undercover narcotic operations and increased patrolling by uniformed deputies, has been effective, Lt. Steven Selby said.
Arrest rates are up because of the increased efforts, he added.
In May and June deputies made only 42 arrests, but in a stepped-up operation in July they booked 56 suspects, including 34 on possession or sale of drugs, according to Sgt. Jerry Greene, narcotics sergeant with the department's Lakewood substation.
Greene said the department believes the operation has been effective because there have been only nine arrests in August. All of the suspects have been dealers.
"We believe activity is down because the dealers are either in jail or have moved," Greene said.
Even though activity has decreased, deputies will continue intense patrolling, including some foot patrols, as well as continuing undercover narcotics work, Selby said.
Tuesday's party, which included free hot dogs, potato chips and sodas, was an attempt to help residents meet their neighbors and to form a Neighborhood Watch group.
City officials said more than 500 residents attended the party in the city's maintenance yard on Flora Vista Street at the southern end of Eucalyptus Street.
It was a festive affair where residents, many of them parents with their children, walked from their apartments to the yard to eat the hot dogs prepared on grills by city employees.
A helicopter, known as Sky Knight, used in fighting crime in the area and other local cities served by the Sheriff's Department, was on display. Several squad cars, a sheriff's motorcycle and Los Angeles County fire trucks were on hand.
Booths Set up
Several informational booths on drug- and crime-fighting programs, including the Neighborhood Block Watch Program, were set up.
The program encourages neighbors to look out for each other by notifying the Sheriff's Department of potential crime problems, Deputy Ron Dietrich said.
"We want the residents to be our eyes and ears. We have found that crime is reduced by 40% in neighborhoods that have this program," Dietrich said.
Dietrich, who coordinates the watch program, said there are about 48 such programs in the Bellflower area. None are in the Eucalyptus area.
Neighbors meet monthly with deputies to discuss crime problems in their areas and are provided with tips on how to spot criminal activities.
Bellflower Mayor John Ansdell said city officials held the party so Eucalyptus residents could get acquainted with each other.
"We want people to get to know each other and we also want people on Eucalyptus to start block watch clubs so they can watch out for each other," Ansdell said.
"We want people to call the Sheriff's Department when they see something suspicious. They can even make anonymous calls," Ansdell said.