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The Lone Rangers : Crime, People Sparse in Vast Patrol Zone


SANTA CLARITA VALLEY — 14:00 hours . Deputies Randy McNary and Bill Axelrod report to work for what is often the loneliest shift in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Today they are the only law force in a 600-square-mile chunk of unincorporated territory in the Santa Clarita Valley.

How lonely is it out there for a pair of law enforcement officers?

Let's just say that the most exciting event of their shift is catching a 15-year-old urinating against a building.

We are a long way from "NYPD Blue."

14:50 hours. McNary, 28, is behind the wheel. His route is largely at his discretion, unless a call comes in via radio or the computer terminal mounted near the dash.

He has a lot of choices. The territory stretches north along the Golden State Freeway from the Antelope Valley Freeway interchange to the Kern County line. From west to east, it ranges from the Ventura County line to near the edge of the Leona Valley.

Deputies who work the area have pointed out that getting to a trouble scene in a prudent amount of time can be a problem when they happen to be on the other side of the territory. Nonessential calls naturally get put on the back burner.

"When someone asks us to come out to handle a burglary, it can take a couple of hours," says Axelrod, 38.

The largely unpopulated territory does have a few potential trouble spots. There's Six Flags Magic Mountain, the impoverished community of Val Verde where numerous gang members reside, and the area around the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho county jail, where the deputies are sometimes called in to search for an escapee. Along the maze of winding roads leading into desert hills are scattered mobile homes and other dwellings sometimes used for drug labs.

McNary drives up Lake Hughes Road toward the northeast corner of the territory, to the town of Three Points, population 150.

Axelrod talks about the contrasts between patrolling the territory and his last post in West Hollywood, where his assignments included posing as a male prostitute.

The deputy knew he was no longer in the city when one night on patrol in the territory he received a call to help in a domestic matter.

"I went to one house, basically to tell a 10-year-old boy he has to go to bed," he says. "I couldn't believe it.

"I said to myself, 'What am I doing out here?' "

16:45 hours. All is quiet in Three Points.

While heading back to the heart of the territory, McNary pulls into Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 149 in Castaic to use the restroom. The fire station is like a branch office where the deputies often stop to write reports and handle other administrative duties.

Axelrod waits outside, smoking a cigarette. This has not been a good day to bolster arguments in favor of adding more patrols to the territory.

But just as the deputies leave the station, they spot a group of teen-age boys at the side of an abandoned convenience store. One of them is a 15-year-old with the sides of his head shaved and a long pony tail. He is the urinator.

McNary and Axelrod spring into action. McNary pulls the car over, gets out and approaches the teen-ager, who has finished relieving himself. The deputy searches the youth and then tells him his action is illegal and could land him in jail.

The teen-ager has only a weak excuse. "It's all water," he says, quietly.

McNary and Axelrod let him go with a warning.

18:15 hours. Of course, on some days the deputies find themselves in far more serious situations. As they drive past a mobile home park near Val Verde, they point out a mobile home with boarded-up windows. They are all too familiar with the man who lives there.

"He beats his wife, he sells dope and he has lots of guns," Axelrod says. "But he's real cool to us because he's on parole."

The deputies return to the Santa Clarita station so McNary can make a correction on a police report from the night before. Like law enforcement officers everywhere, he views paperwork with disdain.

"One call can eat up your entire shift, especially if you have a suspect in custody," he says.

21:45 hours. McNary pulls into the Santa Clarita station after driving more than 200 miles during his shift, a personal record.

Both deputies insist this is the first time they have gone through an entire shift without one call.

McNary collects his equipment and prepares to head to his Santa Clarita home and his family. Axelrod isn't as lucky--he has volunteered for overtime and is scheduled to patrol another shift in Canyon Country at 11 p.m.

23:00 hours. Two students from a Christian college are having a private prayer devotional in a parking lot near Magic Mountain when three men wearing orange pants emerge from the brush.

The three men, who had just escaped from Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho, carjack the students' pickup truck.

Unhurt but truckless, the students call for help at a nearby hotel. A manhunt for the three escapees begins.

McNary and Axelrod missed the excitement. But it probably would have meant doing a lot of paperwork.

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