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Proposal for Sheriff's Dept. to Police the Valley Draws Scorn

July 24, 1993|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A suggestion that police protection for the entire San Fernando Valley be transferred to the Sheriff's Department met a mixture of scorn, confusion and some interest Friday.

The Valley's highest ranking Los Angeles Police Department official, Deputy Police Chief Mark A. Kroeker, said chances of realizing the idea are "less than zero."

Among opponents, some were more adamant, using descriptions such as "insane" and "horrifying."

But others, such as civic leader Ben Reznik, chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., a broad-based regional business group representing 350 members and affiliates who employ 250,000 in the Valley, said the idea merits study.

"I can tell you as chairman of the board of the largest business organization in the region, we would be pleased with any solutions, however creative, that increase the number of patrol officers on the streets," Reznik said.

"That is in everyone's benefit, whether you are a businessman, a resident or a visiting tourist."

In a single sentence, the possibility was included in a preliminary analysis of ways to boost the LAPD by 3,000 officers in four years. Produced by Assistant Chief Frank Piersol and his staff, the report was submitted to Police Chief Willie L. Williams earlier this month.

Concerns were voiced Friday that such a move would disrupt the department's much touted community-based policing program.

"The Sheriff's Department is a wonderful organization . . . but I just don't think you can mix the two," said LAPD Officer Rick Gibby, a senior lead officer involved in the community-based policing program at Devonshire Division. "It would set back community based policing. It would be detrimental to the . . . structure we have here." Becky Leveque, who works with Gibby on the Neighborhood Watch that covers Porter Ranch, Northridge and Granada Hills and is president of the booster club that supports Devonshire Division, said such a move could disrupt police programs.

"If they were going to hire sheriff's deputies and make them LAPD officers that would be fine, but having two different entities working is not," Leveque said. "It would be very disruptive to bring an outside entity in when we're all working so closely together."

Not all police officials criticized the concept of sheriff's deputies patrolling Valley streets.

"I would prefer city of Los Angeles officers patrolling the streets of Los Angeles, but difficult times mean that you have to make difficult decisions and look at all the alternatives," said Capt. Tim McBride, commander of Foothill Division.

"I think it's feasible," McBride said, noting that the city of Long Beach hired sheriff's deputies to patrol 20% of the city for four years. "I don't have any quarrel with them pursuing the option."

Others, such as Reznik, voiced a similar willingness to consider the idea.

"I have no problem with whether it's a sheriff's car out there or a police car," Reznik said.

The idea may signal that "people are beginning to react to Mayor Riordan's challenge of 'let's start from scratch and look at how we can get 3,000 police. Let's look at all options,"' Reznik said.

In an interview Friday, Riordan termed the suggestion "just an idea." He did not dismiss it outright.

"It's the type of idea I like to hear people throw out there, but that doesn't mean it's good," Riordan said. ". . . Personally, I think the people in the Valley want to be safe, and however they're safe I'm sure they'll go along with that."

Riordan said many options are being discussed to improve public safety in the city. He said he had not heard the suggestion about deploying sheriff's deputies in the Valley until Friday.

Another possibility, Riordan said, is to deploy officers waiting to testify in court by giving them beepers so they could be reached quickly on the streets.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department offered neither praise nor criticism of the concept.

"This report is by no means a feasibility study and has not involved any input by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department," Sgt. Bob Stoneman said. "If such a study is requested we'd be pleased to objectively evaluate the proposal."

The costs of training a sheriff's deputy as compared to an LAPD police officer were unavailable Friday. Pay rates for a deputy start at $38,800, which is more than the $34,000 a rookie LAPD officer is paid.

At an afternoon roll call meeting at Foothill Division, officers reacted to the idea with glum confusion.

"I don't really understand it," said one officer. "What would happen to us? Would we lose our jobs?"

Another officer added: "All I know is that this doesn't do a whole lot for morale around here."

Kroeker, who commands the Valley's five divisions, said publicity about the preliminary analysis raised unnecessary concerns for Valley beat officers as well as residents.

"We have so much going on here and so many people living in fear," Kroeker said. "They don't deserve to be unsettled like that.

"We're in so much turbulence right now trying to balance the morale of the officers with the morale of the community," Kroeker said. "We need to hang together as a city and recognize that we are all part of each others' lives and develop a city identity."

"It isn't going to happen," said Kroeker. "It never has been an issue and it isn't one now."

"If I have anything to say about it, nobody will even talk about it anymore," he added.

Times staff writers Mark Lacey and Timothy Williams contributed to this story.

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