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Sheriff Cuts Liaisons for Area Schools : Budget: Deputies had built rapport with students, some of whom are at risk for committing crimes. The department is also eliminating nine other positions.

June 25, 1992|AMY LOUISE KAZMIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA CRESCENTA — Sheriff's Deputy Kyle Bistline fights crime by reaching out to school troublemakers, struggling students and children on the fringes of gang life.

These youths are at risk of becoming criminals, said Bistline, who for the past two years has been working as a counselor at Crescenta Valley High School and Rosemont Junior High School in the Glendale Unified School District.

Bistline's intervention has helped children stay out of trouble and in school, Crescenta Valley Principal Ken Biermann said.

"He built a bridge for the kids to feel that they could come to him with their problems," Biermann said. "A lot of kids turned to him with questions that they had about their own home setting."

But Bistline, a five-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, will not be going back to school this fall.

In anticipation of a $66.5-million shortfall in the department's $812-million budget for the 1992-93 fiscal year, sheriff's officials have decided to eliminate the Crescenta Valley Regional Sheriff Station's school liaison program.

Nine other positions--including two community relations officers, five sergeants who supervise patrol units, an administrative officer and a lieutenant--are also being cut from the area's force of 148 people, who are divided between the main station in La Crescenta and a substation in Altadena.

The deputies involved will be transferred to other stations to fill vacancies there, and to help reduce overtime. The department will close the Altadena substation to the public from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., although deputies will continue to staff it at night to respond to calls.

The reductions, which are expected to save the department $800,000, will take effect July 1.

Captain Michael Quinn, the area commander, said the cutbacks will affect public services. Although deputies will continue to respond to emergencies rapidly, he said, they will be slower to respond to citizens who call to report such crimes as burglaries.

Deputies will try to fill the gap left by the loss of the community relations officers, who learned about incipient crime problems and the concerns of area residents by attending numerous local meetings.

"They (community relations officers) go beyond 'nice to have,' " Quinn said. "These are positions you need to have. They can stop problems before they become problems."

However, deputies will not be able to attend all community meetings, the captain said.

"It's going to be a hit-or-miss situation," Quinn said. "I can't take a patrol unit out of the field to attend a Kiwanis meeting."

But the area commander said he is most upset by the loss of the two school resource officers, whose task of developing personal relationships with troubled youths cannot be taken up by others.

During his two years at Crescenta Valley High and Rosemont Junior High, Bistline often spoke to classes about law enforcement, answered students' queries about laws and the legal system, and cracked down on non-students hanging around campus.

The deputy also spent many hours hanging out on the playground and in the hallways, just talking to students. And in an effort to become part of the campus landscape, Bistline said he and his wife attend many school functions.

Eventually, many confided in him about personal matters. Others warned him of impending conflicts on campus, many of which were subsequently averted.

"I feel that there have been a lot of fights that have been broken up because we knew ahead of time," Bistline said.

Biermann agreed.

"When you have somebody who is visibly on campus identifying that they are a member of law enforcement, it eliminates potential problems," the principal said.

For Bistline, though, the most rewarding part of his job has been counseling troubled youths, and intervening to help them solve problems. Bistline talked to students' families and sometimes served as a mediator for students.

As a result, Bistline said "there's been a lot of kids that have been turned around."

Quinn said the station's other school liaison officer, Deputy Dan Connolly, has played a similar role at Eliot Middle School in Altadena, acting as a mentor to many students.

Quinn, who says these relationships can stop children from sliding into a life of crime, has asked county Supervisor Mike Antonovich for funds to save the liaison positions.

"If we get in there with officers who can deal and relate with these kids, a lot of them are salvageable," Quinn said.

But so far, the captain has had no reply, although a spokesman for Antonovich said the supervisor would like the program continued.

Nationwide, similar programs have been praised for providing students with positive role models who can counter the peer pressure to get involved in gangs and in other criminal activity, said Robert Trojanowicz, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University.

"We always talk about how we need prevention, how we can't just react to a crime," Trojanowicz said. "An effort like that is a true prevention effort, but in a budget crunch, the prevention effort is always the first one to go."

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