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Agencies Cooperate on Crime in Monrovia

March 01, 1990|SIOK-HIAN TAY KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONROVIA — A crime-plagued apartment complex on the east side of town has become the testing ground for a new, multi-pronged crackdown by government officials.

Police have made eight arrests at the pair of single-story blue buildings on South California Avenue within the last month, for charges ranging from malicious mischief to car theft to drug use.

In addition, city code enforcement officers have slapped the owner with 12 code violation notices ordering him to cover exposed electrical wires, fix cracked windows, and remove a discarded washing machine, some broken refrigerators and at least six abandoned cars from the grounds.

Even the county Community Development Commission, which uses federal funds to subsidize rent for tenants in about half of the complex's 12 units, is pitching in with letters to pressure the owner to clean up his property.

The joint effort is just what Police Chief Joseph Santoro had in mind when he formed a committee last month to harness the resources of city departments and community agencies for crime-fighting and neighborhood improvement.

"He's moving beyond traditional police strategies and outside the organization into the community," said City Manager Jim Starbird, who praised Santoro's approach as a "tremendously effective" management philosophy.

"The strategy is to identify problems and draw on all resources," Santoro said. For instance, police might direct a wayward youth into sports or counseling programs instead of ignoring him until his next arrest. "It's a matter of coordinating (services) and focusing them on a situation. In the long run, it'll save a lot of time."

The police chief is also instructing his officers to be on the lookout for crime patterns.

"Previously, they'd handle one incident and then move on," Santoro said. "We're going to be asking . . . if they see a unique pattern emerging, that it come up the chain of command. We may be able to put the fire out, but to prevent it from igniting again we have to look at the larger picture."

So he began assembling the as-yet-unnamed committee with representatives from the city's Community Development Department and Housing Division. Its first project was to come up with ideas for tackling the situation at the east-side apartment complex.

"We're trying to attack it from every which way," Santoro said. "The biggest thing is sharing information."

Last month Senior Code Enforcement Officer Dan McConnell, a committee member, inspected the property on a tip from police and notified the owner of the 12 code violations. If uncorrected, each violation becomes a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in county jail.

"Some (violations) are already taken care of," McConnell said.

Pete Niijar, who owns the buildings, said he is happy to cooperate with authorities. He acknowledged that there is a problem with dumped appliances and broken couches left in the complex's back parking lot.

"Every month I end up spending $150 just to have the trash moved," he said. He believes most of the drug-related problems are caused by outsiders, perhaps youths he has seen hanging around outside the complex.

"I've driven by the property many times and asked them what they're doing there, but on the streets I have no authority to do anything."

City Housing Division Manager Steve Cervantes said he has recommended increased security precautions at the complex, including lighting improvements and raising the height of a six-foot wrought iron fence to about eight feet.

"We can't really require that," he said. "These are just kind of strong suggestions." He also persuaded the county Community Development Commission to write to the owner, urging him to pay more attention to his property.

The city's own Community Development Department has cooperated with police in the past, but the affiliation has been informal and sporadic.

"We're all terribly excited about the prospects that this (committee) has," city Community Development Director Don Hopper said. "We're anxious to get this off the ground."

Many cities have informally merged law enforcement with government and community agencies on occasion, said Glen Bell, president of the San Gabriel Valley Police Chiefs Assn.

Bell said that in Burbank, where he serves as police chief, the city manager has assigned members of other city divisions to work with the Police Department on a case-by-case basis. "Every community does its own thing."

Some cities, including Pasadena and Pomona, have more structured arrangements, similar to the new program in Monrovia.

In Pasadena, Police Lt. Gregg Henderson chairs an advisory board with representatives from 13 agencies, including the NAACP, the Urban League and El Centro de Accion Social, a social service agency. The 3-year-old group holds monthly meetings to provide a forum for community concerns and opinions on police effectiveness.

Henderson also leads a 14-member committee formed in 1987 with representatives from city departments, including Public Works, Zoning and Planning.

"We've gone in and cleaned properties up, and turned them around," he said.

Officials in Pomona have formed Combined Agencies, a coalition of 48 area groups that has been working with the Police Department for three years.

"There's too much work for any one agency to do," said Ted Burnett, the director of a family counseling center and a leader of the network. Focusing on at-risk youth, the committee meets twice monthly to exchange information and to organize seminars and educational retreats.

In Monrovia, Santoro said he expects his crime-fighting committee to meet at least twice a month, and to grow with the addition of representatives from the Monrovia Unified School District, social service agencies and the community.

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