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Panels Seek to Ease Relations Between Deputies, Residents : Law enforcement: Sheriff's stations are forming citizens advisory committees in response to recommendations of Kolts report.

September 12, 1993|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH AREA — Residents of three small unincorporated areas in Long Beach, Cerritos and Lakewood who say they have no one locally to address their concerns about law enforcement and crime will soon have a sympathetic ear.

The Lakewood sheriff's station is setting up a six-member citizens advisory committee to take up various law enforcement issues in the communities, including any concerns about the way the areas are patrolled. The panel will not have authority to review or investigate citizens' complaints against deputies but can bring problems to the attention of the Sheriff's Department.

"Some people are intimidated by neighbors causing problems or even by sheriff's deputies," said committee member Jerry Clarke, 50. "We can go in there and be the buffer."

The committee is one of several being formed to serve unincorporated areas in the Southeast. In March, the Norwalk sheriff's station set up a 12-member panel to serve the 65,000 residents of South Whittier. A nine-member committee to serve the 35,000 residents of West Whittier will begin training next month.

The Century sheriff's station, formerly the Lynwood station, plans to have an eight-member panel in place by mid-December to serve unincorporated areas including Walnut Park, Florence-Firestone, Willowbrook and Rancho Dominguez.

The committees are an outgrowth of an investigation of the Sheriff's Department last year. A report by retired Superior Court Judge James G. Kolts, in July, 1992, found "evidence of excessive force and lax discipline" within the department. The report called for community policing programs at local stations to help improve relations between the community and law enforcement.

Some residents of the unincorporated section of East Long Beach say excessive force has not been a problem in their neighborhoods, but they are concerned about drug dealing at a local park, youths trespassing at a nearby elementary school and occasional burglaries.

The East Long Beach area is bounded by Woodruff and Palo Verde avenues, and Conant and East Parkcrest streets. It has about 1,500 of the 2,000 residents who will be served by the committee.

The panel will represent about 300 residents in an eight-block unincorporated area bounded by East 166th Street, Windward Avenue, Gridley Road and East 167th Street in Cerritos. Five streets on unincorporated land on the eastern borders of Cerritos and Lakewood are also included.

Committee members, who are all from East Long Beach, said they hope to coordinate the activities of Neighborhood Watch groups in each of the areas, put out a newsletter with a police blotter and distribute a questionnaire about the performance of sheriff's deputies. Later this month, the panel will begin public forums to hear residents' concerns about crime.

The members have been in training for six weeks, learning about internal investigations, use-of-force policies and complaint procedures, among other things.

"We can ask them anything and they'll answer," said committee member Dan McIntyre, 39. I never thought it would be so open."

Joe Hohn, chairman of the South Whittier committee, said the group has helped dispel some residents' fear of the Sheriff's Department. The committee, which has been meeting for seven months, also has successfully encouraged residents to report crimes such as tagging and robberies in their neighborhoods, Hohn said.

He said the committee is sending its first list of recommendations to Capt. Norm Smith of the Norwalk station, calling for additional patrol cars and a full-time field sergeant, among other things. The group plans to send a similar list to Smith every three months.

"We're trying to break down the us-versus-them mentality between the community and the Sheriff's Department," he said.

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