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Tired of Crime, Neighbors Hire Private Security : Law enforcement: Residents agree to pay for patrols after two claim Councilman Alatorre was indifferent to their concerns about police protection. He denies calling problems 'insignificant.'

August 08, 1993|DIANA S. KIM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Feeling spurned by Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre who, they allege, said their problems were "insignificant," two Highland Park women have taken their concerns about rising crime in their neighborhood into their own hands.

And with support from at least 30 other neighbors, longtime San Pascual Avenue residents Gloria Clingerman and Christine Aparicio Chaulsett have hired a private security company to patrol the area.

The two women said they were forced to take action after a meeting with Alatorre last month. According to the pair, he closed their conversation by saying: "Your problems are insignificant."

Even the demeanor of the 14th District councilman showed disregard for their problems, the women said. During the session, they said, he leaned back in his swivel chair with his legs spread apart and propped on the desk, they said.

"It's embarrassing," said Clingerman, 37, a community activist. "We don't mean nothing to him. We campaigned for him and this is what we got.

"It (the 'insignificant' comment) stuck in my head."

Alatorre has flatly denied that he ever uttered insignificant during the meeting with his two constituents.

"I never would say that to anybody. I would never downgrade their problems," said the eight-year council veteran, whose district encompasses the Eastside, Downtown, Eagle Rock and Highland Park. "I've worked with these people for many years. They're being childish. I don't know what their motivation is."

As for the women's complaints about his casual posture during their meeting, the 50-year-old councilman said, "If they were offended by it, they should tell me."

The two neighbors continue to stand by their version of the meeting. And, spurred by their anger, they held a "town meeting" July 31 after spending four weekends hand-delivering 350 notices of the session to their San Pascual Avenue neighborhood of about 800 residents.

In May, the area's residents were informed by the community liaison officer of the Police Department's Northeast Division that their already understaffed patrols may be spread even thinner.

Northeast Division Lt. Steve Twohy said there have been months of preliminary talks about drawing new boundary lines between the division and neighboring Rampart Division, the department's most crime-ridden area. That would mean Northeast officers would cover a larger territory, further spreading its resources.

"It's just been preliminary talks. Nothing is planned," Twohy said. "We have minimal resources, but we try to allocate them the best way we can without giving up on one community for another.

"Everyone is concerned about crime. We need twice as many officers as we got."

Clingerman and Chaulsett said they sympathize with the Police Department's plight, but that does not mean they will resign themselves to living in fear in their own homes. This is the neighborhood where both women grew up and where Clingerman is raising six children with ages ranging from 3 to 20.

Within the last three years, residents say, the neighborhood has been subjected to increasing displays of social ills--prostitution in the parks, people urinating in the open and the peddling of drugs on street corners, to name a few.

"I feel very sad for the seniors," Chaulsett said. "I went to school with their kids. Now (the elderly) can't enjoy the park and they can't walk to the market at night."

Putting aside their disheartening meeting with Alatorre, the women believe they have found a solution to their growing problem: pooling neighbors' money to hire a private security firm to supplement the police.

"We are going to fight," Chaulsett said. "We are not just going to settle for stopping the crime. We want to improve the neighborhood."

Chaulsett, 41, a teacher, said she is considering running for Alatorre's council seat.

"This is my home, and I'm angry about how things have run," she said. "I've lived here all my life. And I've seen what it can be and now see what it has become."

The women believe the town meeting marked the beginning of a change.

About 70 people, including Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and representatives of Select Patrol, a Pasadena-based security firm, showed up. As a result, about half of the residents present signed up, at a monthly cost of $15 each, to hire the company's patrol services. Select officials said they expect there will be more subscribers.

Alatorre's Highland Park aide, Juanita Martinez, said she was aware of the meeting but had a doctor's appointment and could not attend. The councilman's press deputy, Luisa Campano, said she had assigned someone else from the office to go.

"We weren't invited to the meeting," said Alatorre, explaining why no one from his office came.

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