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Plan Would Target 25 Gang Members for Surveillance : Law enforcement: Officials are proposing a 2% utility tax hike to fund six additional deputies to help check several times a day on worst offenders.


PARAMOUNT — Gang leaders in Paramount may soon see a lot of their local sheriff's deputies--on the street, on the corner, whenever the gang members step outside.

This special attention would be given to 25 youths considered the most hard-core gang members in the city as part of a proposal to rid the city of violence.

Under the plan, a city tax increase would be used to hire six deputies, who would join the 35 already assigned to the city and would be given a gang member to check on two, three, four times a day.

"Basically, if he commits a crime, we're right there," said sheriff's Capt. John Anderson, whose area includes Paramount and surrounding cities. "If he doesn't like the attention, he can decide to leave."

Proponents, including some business owners, school officials, deputies and city staff, hope to see the proposal passed by the City Council in May.

Under the plan, the city utility user tax would be raised 2% to pay for a civilian crime analyst, a typist and six deputies. Officials estimate that the new tax would cost the average family an additional $3 per month and raise about $1 million annually, said Pat West, deputy city manager.

The civilian head of the city's Public Safety Department would be sworn in as an officer and would have more say in how the deputies assigned to Paramount fight crime. But the plan's centerpiece would be the top-25 list.

The list, which deputies and city officials are compiling, includes only males between the ages of 15 and 28. Most are teen-agers and most are Latino. The city of about 48,000 people is 61% Latino.

About half of the youths on the list no longer attend school and most have been arrested for assault, auto theft or narcotics violations, but they were not necessarily convicted of those crimes, said sheriff's Sgt. Peggy O'Neal. Each is a self-described gang member, she said.

The targeted youths would be visited two to four times a day by officers familiar with their rap sheets, parole or probation terms and personal histories. If seen violating a law or probation, arrest would be immediate, West said. Local prosecutors say they give their full support to the program and do not plan to plea-bargain with gang members on the list.

If arrested on a drug violation, the suspect's landlord would also be contacted and informed of the city's ability to seize homes and apartments where drug activity continues. Workshops are being planned for property owners, who will be told how to "screen out drug dealers and gangbangers," West said.

When one name is removed from the list of 25--as the gang members move, go to jail or clean up their acts--another troublemaker will be added, West said.

"This isn't harassment," West said. "We just want these people to know that, whenever they are out of their house, it's very likely that an officer will be looking for them."

Mark Silverstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether the program would trample on the civil rights of those targeted, but he said he wants to see how the program is enforced. His organization has requested more information from the Sheriff's Department.

Although city officials said the plan is not meant to drive their gang problems into other communities, Anderson conceded that could be the result.

"Maybe it is a little selfish," Anderson said.

Officials in neighboring cities did not seem to be concerned about Paramount's plan, however, saying it was unlikely such a program would increase gang activity in their cities.

"Our community is pretty well organized against gangs," said Jack Simpson, Bellflower's city administrator. "Gang people ought to know they aren't welcome in Bellflower."

Paramount officials are planning a public forum on the issue April 20, and the City Council will consider the program May 4. If the public responds favorably, the council may approve the new tax at that meeting, West said.

There is some concern among businesses owners that the tax will create too large a burden, but West said the business community also has been strained by a negative city image and rising crime.

Comparing the last six months of 1991 to the last six months of 1992--the only statistics Paramount has available--there was a 30% rise in robberies, a 13% jump in burglaries and a 20% increase in auto thefts.

The statistics for murder, rape and arson had dropped, but three high-profile gang-related shootings have damaged the city's reputation, West said.

Last June, Paramount High School honor student Alfred Clark was shot and killed inside a McDonald's restaurant across the street from the school on the day before he was to graduate. In September, cheerleader Sheila Lorta was killed by gang cross-fire as she left the same restaurant to return to school.

Two months later, 16-year-old Herminio Munoz was shot by suspected gang members at a mini-mall on Rosecrans Avenue.

Munoz survived the attack, but Paramount's reputation took a beating, West said.

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