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Council Votes to End Patrols by Deputies : Law enforcement: The Sheriff's Department is scheduled to turn over duties to the police at the end of June. A petition effort to retain the deputies for another year in the northern part of the city fails.

April 01, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — A last-ditch effort to keep county sheriff's deputies patrolling north and northeast Long Beach failed when a City Council majority stood firm and said the Police Department should once again protect the entire city.

The 6-2 vote came Tuesday, after residents submitted petitions containing nearly 2,000 signatures calling for the City Council to keep the deputies in town until July, 1994.

The 49 deputies, brought in to bolster police forces in 1990, are scheduled to leave town at the end of June. The Police Department has hired and is training officers to replace them.

Frank Brady, a participant in the petition drive, said residents in his neighborhood are fearful that crime will spread when the deputies leave. "The people understand they've had great protection for the past couple of years, and they want it to continue," he said.

The residents, backed by dissenting Councilmen Warren Harwood and Les Robbins, wanted the deputies to stay on to boost the number of law enforcement officers in the city to about 780. More police officers eventually would be hired to replace the deputies, they said.

The council majority balked. They agreed that the financially strapped city could use more officers but could not afford to pay $6 million a year to keep the deputies. They also pointed out that the City Council voted last July to return full control of the city to the Police Department.

Plans already have been drafted for the changeover in three months. Altering that course would cause confusion and hurt morale, they reasoned.

"It's been debated. It's been dealt with. The decision's been made," said Vice Mayor Jeffrey A. Kellogg, who once wanted to keep the deputies in town. "We're at the point where we have to more forward."

Council members Evan Anderson Braude, Alan S. Lowenthal, Douglas Drummond, Doris Topsy-Elvord and Ray Grabinski joined Kellogg in the majority. Councilman Thomas J. Clark, who is recovering from recent surgery, was absent.

Robbins once said the decision to replace deputies with police officers was like trading in "a Rolls-Royce for a Chevrolet." On Tuesday, the councilman simply made a plea for more law enforcement officers and said the council could find ways to cut spending in other areas to keep the deputies.

"It's not an issue of police versus sheriff's (deputies)," said Robbins, a sergeant in the sheriff's East Los Angeles station. "It's an issue of putting more police officers on the streets regardless of the color of the uniform."

After city voters rejected a ballot measure last November that would have imposed a special property tax to pay for 100 more officers, City Manager James C. Hankla said he would devise a way to add the officers to the force. Such a plan would entail spending cuts in other city departments to free up about $7.5 million a year to pay for the officers.

The City Council would have to consider and approve such a plan during budget deliberations in the next two months.

In recent years, the Police Department has been more than 100 officers below full strength because of vacancies, early retirements and work-related disability claims.

But what was intended to be a stopgap measure eventually took on a new character. Residents liked the deputies and began pressing city officials to keep them.

Robbins, Harwood and Drummond pushed to abolish the local police force and replace it with deputies. But a City Council majority nixed that proposal last summer, saying it wanted local control. The majority then voted to terminate the four-year contract with the Sheriff's Department at the end of June, one year early.

On Tuesday, only a handful of residents testified before the City Council. Although nearly 2,000 people signed the petitions, only about 10 argued in person to keep the deputies.

Several people also urged the council to bid the deputies farewell as planned.

Mayor Ernie Kell, who does not have a vote, lamented the outcome.

"I still think that would have been a prudent thing to do, but the votes were not there," he said.

Brady, the community activist, said, "The final vote was against the people. It's living proof the grass-roots effort doesn't work, even on the local level."

Council members wasted little time debating the issue. They rushed to vote so they would not be late to a luncheon aboard the Queen Mary.

Once aboard the historic ocean liner, city officials broke bread with Sheriff Sherman Block. As scheduled, they thanked him for his deputies' good work over the past three years.

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