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Alarcon Seeks Special Police Patrols to Rid 'Ghost Towns' of Vice : Safety: The councilman also asks for an official stance on spending disaster relief funds to hire armed guards at the buildings.

August 25, 1994|TRACEY KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reacting to complaints that unarmed guards hired by the city can't protect San Fernando Valley "ghost towns"--apartment buildings left vacant by quake damage--Councilman Richard Alarcon on Wednesday called for special police patrols to rid the buildings of drug dealers, gang members and vandals.

In a letter faxed late Wednesday to Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, Alarcon also asked the department to take an official position on using federal disaster relief funds to hire armed guards. The patrols are now unarmed, partly because local police officials have warned that hiring guards with guns could lead to violent confrontations and subsequent lawsuits against the city.

An LAPD spokesman said Williams was not prepared to comment on Alarcon's request. But police officials in the San Fernando Valley said they will recommend that Williams reject Alarcon's request for special patrols in the northeast Valley.

"I'm not in favor of it," said Cmdr. John Moran of the Valley Bureau. "We just don't have the people. Let's assume you gave the public a choice--fight violent crime or protect the ghost towns. Most people would choose to fight violent crime."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 27, 1994 Valley Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 5 No Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Ghost towns--A story in Thursday's Times confused a drop in arrests with a drop in reports of major crimes at some San Fernando Valley "ghost towns"--apartment buildings left vacant by quake damage. The story should have stated that homicides, rapes and other major crimes reported in the North Hills area east of the San Diego Freeway declined 30% during the first seven months of this year compared to the year before.

Alarcon, who flew to Washington before his proposal was announced by staff members, could not be reached for comment. The matter is scheduled to be discussed by the city's Ad Hoc Earthquake Committee on Sept. 13.

Several council members said they wanted to study Alarcon's proposal before commenting. But Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes heavily damaged areas of Sherman Oaks, said that although he has not received any complaints about guards at "ghost towns" in Sherman Oaks, there may be a need to arm them in North Hills if problems are worse there.

"It would be a significant escalation, but it may be necessary," he said.

Ever since the Northridge quake created 12 clusters of uninhabited apartment buildings in the Valley, Hollywood and the mid-city area, some nearby residents have complained about problems ranging from squatters barbecuing inside abandoned units to prostitutes and drug dealers setting up shop in the parking lots.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted $2.8 million to the city to board up, fence off and protect the "ghost towns."

Earlier this week, a North Hills citizens group sharply criticized a security company hired by the city to protect 41 abandoned apartment buildings east of the San Diego Freeway between Roscoe and Nordhoff boulevards. One member of the North Hills Task Force said Wednesday that the two guards, provided by Alhambra-based Inter-Con Security Systems, are useless because their lack of weapons makes them reluctant to stand up to interlopers.

"They would carry much more authority if they were armed," said Eddie Gonzalez, a North Hills property manager and member of the task force.

The group supports Alarcon's proposal, said property manager Guy Stadig, adding that more police are necessary because "the area is just wild with crime."

The LAPD does not keep statistics on crimes committed in the "ghost towns." But some police statistics suggest that while vandalism, prostitution and drug sales may be increasing, the number of other offenses may actually be dropping in the North Hills area east of the San Diego Freeway.

The number of arrests for major crimes, including rape, robbery and homicide, actually declined about 30% in the area for the first seven months of this year compared to the same period the year before, from about 1,450 arrests to about 962, said Capt. Vance Proctor, commanding officer of the Devonshire division. He credited the reduction in arrests to an increased police presence.

Proctor said he has been spending at least 80% of his overtime budget--or more than $77,000 per month--on extra patrols for the North Hills "ghost town" since the quake.

"If the powers that be want to give me additional resources for the ghost towns, I'll say thank you very much," Proctor said. "But at this point, Devonshire has nothing left to give."

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