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Area's Police Upgrade Their Riot Readiness : Law enforcement: Scattered incidents in the region followed the King case verdicts last year. Local authorities say they are better trained and equipped as a result of that unrest.


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — El Monte is spending $8,000 on police riot gear and $3,600 for a helicopter patrol.

Baldwin Park has spent $10,000 for helmets and gas masks.

Freshly trained in crowd control measures, Pasadena police are devising tactics to battle the newest style of civil disobedience: drive-by vandalism.

Meanwhile, community activists from half a dozen San Gabriel Valley cities are planning community forums and rumor-control telephone lines as the Los Angeles federal court trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused of violating Altadena motorist Rodney G. King's civil rights winds to a close.

"It's quantum, the leap ahead," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Jack Miller said of the preparations for civil unrest that are under way in the San Gabriel Valley.

The efforts stand in marked contrast to last year, when violence broke out in the Los Angeles area after the April 29 not guilty verdicts of the same LAPD officers on state charges. More than 50 people were killed, about 10,000 businesses were destroyed and property losses totaled $1 billion.

The upheaval exposed a countywide lack of foresight and planning, officials said. But this time, it will be different, law enforcement officials and community activists vow.

"We had a plan last year, but we lacked the proper training, we lacked the proper equipment and we lacked countywide coordination," Baldwin Park Police Chief Carmine Lanza said. "All of those things we have this year."

Even though the San Gabriel Valley escaped except for scattered incidents in Pasadena, Pomona, El Monte and Monrovia, most police departments in the region have upgraded their equipment. Bullet-resistant vests, tear gas, helmets, face shields and gas masks have been ordered or purchased with drug-bust asset forfeiture money, officials said.

Riot training also has been given to many San Gabriel Valley police officers by in-house instructors, or officers from other agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the Sheriff's Department.

Tactical plans have been revised. Last year, gang members gathered in several locations in Pasadena, raced through town, stopped their cars in front of targeted businesses and then piled out to vandalize and rob, said Pasadena Police Cmdr. Gary Bennett. This year, police will use helicopters to keep tabs on gangs from the air.

Crowd control measures dating from the 1970s, in which police form a line and sweep down the street, also have been changed. Those tactics proved inadequate during last year's unrest, in which violent crowds in Los Angeles vastly outnumbered police. Instead, many police agencies are preparing to use the gang-swarm technique, trying a hit-and-run maneuver to rescue victims, Bennett said.

Finally, coordination between agencies is at a much higher level than last year. The Sheriff's Department will oversee any deployment. San Gabriel Valley cities will communicate their needs directly to one of four area sheriff's stations. City police chiefs, fire department officials and sheriff's deputies have been meeting to coordinate their response.

Last year, the cities acted independently, which led to confusion and delays, Miller said.

"The major change (this year) is much better coordination with local police agencies," said Marc McConnell, a county assistant fire chief who coordinates service in the northwest San Gabriel Valley.

Paralleling police and fire department activity is community activity in a number of cities.

In Pasadena, six community forums will be held the week of April 12 by the We Care Coalition, a group formed a year ago to counter civil disobedience.

"We will talk about racism, fear, anger and frustration," said co-chairman Alan La Sha. "It's not just Rodney King . . . there are other issues in Pasadena."

La Sha said feelings are running high now because of the recent death of popular Pasadena barber Michael Bryant and the results of a district attorney's investigation that cleared Pasadena police in the death of Howard Eugene Martin last May.

Bryant died March 9 after Los Angeles police officers hit him with an electric stun gun and hogtied him in the back of a patrol car. Martin died in his home May 2, 1992, when he was hit by a stray bullet fired by Pasadena officers in a shootout with gang members during the civil unrest that followed the King verdict.

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