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Deputies on bikes in Paramount have advantage of surprise to catch criminals in the act.

October 12, 1989|LEE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At first glance, the two men dressed in fatigue-green shorts, polo shirts and tennis shoes and riding 18-speed mountain bicycles looked like any other two people out for exercise.

But the driver who left the door of his truck open and the engine running while he made a delivery on Gundry Avenue recently had no doubts about who these men were.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies Augie Pando and Pierre Nadeau cited the driver for leaving his vehicle unattended.

The two deputies are part of the city's bike patrol. The deputies carry weapons, two-way radios and a cellular telephone. They have "SHERIFF" printed on their polo shirts.

While it is not unusual to see deputies on bikes in some of the beach communities like Malibu and Marina del Rey, it is rare to see them patrolling crowded suburban city streets on bicycles.

But the sheriff's bike patrol has been fighting crime in Paramount since April.

"People are surprised to see us on bikes. We have even surprised suspects in the process of committing crimes," said Pando, 35.

Bike patrolmen Pando and Nadeau, 39, are supervised by Sgt. Bill Lopez, 46. All three have $700 bikes purchased by the city of Paramount, which contracts with the county Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services.

Paramount was the first contract city to use deputies on bike patrol on the streets, said Bob Robinson, city director of public safety.

The East Los Angeles sheriff's station started using them about a month after Paramount, Sgt. Mike Allen said.

Robinson said the Paramount bike patrol started after the city launched a crackdown on drugs in March after some residents complained to city officials that not enough was being done to stop blatant drug trafficking on Gundry Avenue, a residential street with a mix of older apartment buildings and recently developed townhouses.

Some residents had complained that drug dealers would carry on their transactions openly, without fear.

Undercover sheriff's deputies in March arrested 54 people on drug charges, including possessing, selling and purchasing rock cocaine.

The city closed off a portion of the street by building a concrete storm drain to create a cul-de-sac and stop through traffic at Somerset Boulevard. The city also installed high-intensity lights "to brighten up the area and discourage drug dealers from hiding in the shadows to do their business," Robinson said.

After the March raids, deputies started foot patrols on Gundry but soon switched to bicycles, Robinson said.

"The bikes give the officers more mobility. The officers are also not isolated from the people. They get to know the people," Robinson said.

The bike patrol is doing a good job of keeping drug dealers out of the area, said a resident who did not want to be identified. She said before the March raid a dealer had threatened to blow up her residence, because he thought she was reporting illegal drug dealings to the Sheriff's Department.

Like East Los Angeles, Paramount uses the bike patrol only occasionally or when it is needed.

"We might go out for several days in a row, then we might not take the bikes out for a week or two," Pando said.

"We try and keep the bad guys off balance by varying our police method. They don't know how we're coming," Nadeau added.

The deputies do not confine themselves to Gundry Avenue and drug dealers; they patrol in different neighborhoods of the 4.8-square-mile city of nearly 45,000.

The city recently experienced a rash of car thefts around its Towne Center Shopping Center and the Paramount Swap Meet, Sgt. Lopez said.

The bike patrol staked out the areas and arrested 11 suspects, Pando said.

"People never suspect we are deputies. We were able to pedal right up to some of them in the process of stealing the car," Pando said.

Pando said the bike patrol recently helped the Whittier Police Department issue an arrest warrant on an armed robbery suspect.

He and Nadeau went to the rear of the suspect's residence on their bikes while the Whittier officers approached from the front, Pando said. The suspect came out the front without any resistance, but if he had left from the rear, "We had him covered. The element of surprise was on our side," Pando said.

Separate statistics are not kept on the bike patrol, but city officials are convinced the patrol is having an effect on crime, especially illegal drug activities, Robinson said.

And as far as the drug dealings are concerned, deputy Nadeau said:

"We are realistic. When we arrest them in one place, they will eventually go to another dope spot."

But the deputies promised not to give up the chase with their 18-speed bikes.

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