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Police Offer an Olive Branch : Law enforcement: Meeting with youths is one of several being organized to ward off problems that might result from a verdict in the Rodney G. King case.


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — On the second anniversary of the Rodney G. King beating, a new group of gang members and at-risk teen-agers jumped at an olive-branch offer by Pasadena Police to sign up for a special youth academy aimed at helping young people understand how officers work.

In a tense meeting marked by frank exchanges, the group, Youth Against Injustice and Racism, met with police Wednesday in Pasadena. They shared stories about tightly wound officers who extend their guns instead of handshakes to teen-agers on the street, contrasting them with well-liked, outgoing officers who are known to community members by their first names and give out their home phone numbers.

The meeting was the first of several community forums being organized in the San Gabriel Valley to ward off any potential problems after the verdicts in the current trial for the four officers accused of violating King's civil rights. Details about forthcoming meetings elsewhere in the area still are being finalized.

A similar campaign is under way in Los Angeles, where Mayor Tom Bradley has organized a Neighbor to Neighbor Program that sends hundreds of volunteers into the community to quell rumors about the trial and refers people to job and recreation opportunities.

The efforts in the San Gabriel Valley are being coordinated by a coalition led by teen counselor Tim Rhambo, who organized the Pasadena youth group, and Karen Hooks-Roon, a leader of We Care, a Pasadena-based group formed after last spring's riots to work with police in defusing tensions.

The coalition is coordinating the community forums, setting up a toll-free hot line staffed by volunteers to answer questions about the trial and organizing a meeting on the day the verdict is announced so young people can watch the results on big-screen TV with community leaders.

"There's a lot of anger out there, and we don't want it to explode," Hooks-Roon said.

After the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police officers in the King beating case last April, sporadic violence broke out throughout the San Gabriel Valley but not the kind of sustained rampage of death and destruction that erupted in Los Angeles.

Most of the local violence was confined to El Monte, Pasadena, Pomona and Rowland Heights. The toll: four people dead, 13 seriously injured, 20 structures burned, 200 people arrested and more than $2 million in damage.

Wednesday's meeting kicked off the coalition's efforts to avoid a resurgence of violence in an already tense community, said Rhambo, a 24-year-old counselor for the Day One drug rehabilitation and education program in Pasadena.

Rhambo said he rounded up gang members and other young people who have complained about being harassed by police to "ask the many questions that they may have inside that they may never get a chance to ask."

"There's always a negative contact with police. If a police officer pulls you over, you can't ask why you're being pulled over because they'll say, 'Shut up,' at least in the northwest part of town. Over here, it's no respect."

Pasadena Lt. Rick Law told the group that officers are moving toward what's known as community policing, an attempt to get to know community members before problems arise. He also agreed immediately to a suggestion that the department put on a simplified police academy for young people to teach them to trust and respect officers.

"How many times do you see Pasadena police get out of the car and walk through (Jackie) Robinson Park like I used to 10 years ago?" Law said. "It doesn't happen. Hopefully, that's what community policing will bring."

After the meeting, 17-year-old Monica Wilder said the forums are a first step toward building relations between police and an anxious community.

"The majority of people are afraid of police, especially after Rodney King," the Altadena resident said. "When I'm driving, and I see police in the rear-view mirror, I'm scared."

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