Sheriff's deputies begin patrolling the north end of Long Beach today to help the city's beleaguered, understaffed police tackle skyrocketing crime.
The sheriff's patrols will cover 20% of the city, freeing 42 Long Beach police officers to work other parts of town or handle other assignments. Ten officers will be reassigned to the detective division by the end of the year to work on a huge backlog of unsolved crimes, police officials said.
The four-year, $19.9-million sheriff's contract makes Long Beach the first city in the state to have two law enforcement agencies within its boundaries.
Forty-three deputies will patrol the north part of town in cars bearing both the sheriff's six-pointed star and the city's logo, a modern depiction of a skyline and ocean.
Starting today, emergency 911 calls from residents in areas north of Market Street and north of Spring Street, east of Lakewood Boulevard, are being routed to the Lakewood sheriff's station.
Police Chief Lawrence Binkley and other officials said the city department will still be understaffed.
In the detective division, for example, an extra 10 detectives "will help" but will not be sufficient to clear hundreds of backlogged cases, Assistant Police Chief Eugene Brizzolara said.
Long Beach had the worst record of any major California city in 1989 for solving serious and violent crimes, according to the state Department of Justice. Police failed to solve 74% of the rapes, 87% of the robberies and 93% of the burglaries reported in 1989.
Earlier this month, Binkley ordered the city's 157 detectives to work six-day weeks; the mandatory overtime will continue despite the additional detectives, Brizzolara said this week. "We'll still be short," he said.
Binkley said: "The problem is the same old thing. I need people everywhere. I need them in patrol, traffic, metro, gang unit and detectives--just everywhere."
Although the department budget calls for 691 officers, there are 45 vacancies. Another 40 officers are off and 25 are working light duty because of injuries, Brizzolara said. In addition, 43 officers are eligible to retire in December.
The department has been unable to recruit enough new officers to fill the void. Twelve recruits are in training, Brizzolara said. Sheriff's deputies are expected to help fill the gap while the city recruits more officers.
Fifteen of the deputies will patrol the northeast; 25 will be based in the northern section, which has a higher crime rate, Sheriff's Lt. Bob Mirabella said.
In addition, the Sheriff's Department will provide a team leader to coordinate enforcement policies, a community relations deputy and a lieutenant who will be a liaison between the two agencies, according to Deputy City Manager John Williams.
The contract also calls for the Sheriff's Department to provide three community service officers, who are uniformed civilians, and follow-up detective service for cases generated by the deputies.
The deputies assigned to Long Beach this week underwent two days of training, including meetings with community leaders and a tour of north and northeast Long Beach. All the deputies volunteered for the Long Beach assignment.
"Everything is in place," said Sheriff's Division Chief Ray Morris, who oversees Southeast Los Angeles County.
Mirabella, the sheriff's lieutenant who will be the liaison between the two agencies, said the only problem so far has been switching 911 calls.
"We had some technical problems with the phone," Mirabella said. "(But) we put in a lot of extra hours, and we're now in a posture where everything that had to be done has been done."
Long Beach police will continue to oversee some services in the areas to be patrolled by deputies. Police, for example, will still be responsible for the anti-drug program in the schools, helicopter patrols and special event permits.
During a meeting Monday night with 25 North Long Beach residents--one in a series of community meetings--representatives from the Police Department, the city and the Sheriff's Department expressed optimism about the deputy patrols.
"You're going to see law enforcement you haven't seen in a long time," Mayor Ernie Kell said.
Councilman Warren Harwood, who represents the area to be patrolled, told the group that he expects the deputies to "do quality police work and suppress the troublemakers. We're tired of the thugs running our streets."
For resident Larry Wright, it's too late. The father of three said he plans to sell his home and move to Orange County.
"I've been a North Long Beach resident for six years, and I've just had it," Wright told the officials. "I don't think the Long Beach Police Department did a good job at all."
Wright complained after the meeting that police were rarely seen patrolling the neighborhood, despite a growing number of shootings in the area.
Others, however, defended the department. One resident said: "It seems to me that we've given up on the Long Beach Police Department."