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Partners Against Crime

Safer City program launched by Redondo Beach four years ago has earned awards from civic and law enforcement groups for its success.

November 12, 1996|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A sweeping public safety system in Redondo Beach, with services that range from checking on senior citizens each morning to helping homeowners plant criminal-discouraging shrubs, has trimmed crime substantially and won two national awards.

Since the so-called Safer City program started four years ago, crime has dropped. The crime rate has generally been dropping throughout Los Angeles County--in 1995 it fell by 8%. But during that same year, Redondo Beach reduced crime by 15%, almost twice as much.

The city recently won awards for the program from the International City and County Management Assn., an organization of more than 4,000 city administrators, and the Police Executive Research Forum, composed of police officers nationwide to provide training on law enforcement projects.

The program, brainchild of City Manager Bill Kirchhoff, has attracted interest from cities that want to adapt the plan to their neighborhoods.

"Community-based policing is larger than the police," said Jerry Williams, a former police chief and executive director of the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute in Huntsville, Texas, where Kirchhoff has lectured about how to improve community policing efforts.

Kirchhoff, who came to Redondo Beach six years ago from Arlington, Texas, based his program on the premise that police can't do it all. He required all city departments to contribute an idea on how they could make the city safer.

The library compiled a bibliography related to crime prevention and printed a booklet with helpful phone numbers; the Recreation and Community Services Department created a night sports program for teenagers.

The Public Works Department stepped up graffiti removal. And after two massage parlors were shut down for soliciting prostitution, the city attorney proposed an ordinance requiring all massage therapists to obtain a special license from the city. It was passed last fall.

Even the Planning Department got involved, creating a landscaping scheme that encourages residents to plant low-lying "barrier" plants to keep thieves away. For example, natal plum plants sprouting bodacious thorns along with their delicate white flowers were planted outside the bedroom windows at a new senior citizens home.

The Planning Department also set up a system to control nuisances at entertainment venues. Each establishment must post a deposit of up to $5,000 to offset police services that require more than two cars at scene.

"Those places soak up police manpower," said Paul Connolly, chief of the planning department. "If the police are at a bar, then they're not patrolling the neighborhoods."

The business owners don't seem to mind.

"A deposit is an appropriate thing, especially in a place where there is a history," said Terry Fleming, who had to post a $1,500 deposit with the city in order to open Doc's on the Rocks, a restaurant-nightclub that opened in the marina last July.

The Fire Department offered an "Are You OK?" program, a computerized telephone system that calls elderly and disabled residents at a set time each morning. If the householder does not answer, a dispatcher tries to reach a friend or family member; if that doesn't work, a fire crew is dispatched to the house. People who are planning to be out that morning notify the city in advance.

Six months ago, the city saved an elderly woman who was suffering from congestive heart failure and couldn't get to the phone, Fire Department Chief Pat Aust said.

Aust is disappointed that only 25 of the city's 4,300 senior citizens have signed up for the free service during its first two years. Many elderly people equate the program with being dependent and incapable, he said.

But Virginia Bradner, 71, signed up for the program 1 1/2 years ago after she was hospitalized for phlebitis. She thought the 9:15 a.m. daily call would be a good precaution.

Besides, she said, "It's really nice to hear a man's voice in the morning and you don't have to do anything for him like get him coffee or make him breakfast."

The Fire Department hosts block parties with the police and parks departments so neighbors get to know one another and keep an eye out for gang crime.

City departments are more likely to work together on other projects as well.

For example, the Planning Department sent a code enforcement officer along with police in 1994 to a mom-and-pop motel on Artesia Boulevard that police said was a hotbed of drug activity, burglaries and violent crime.

The inspector's examination of Redondo Court Motel revealed 46 violations of city building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical codes and was deemed unfit for habitation, according to a lawsuit filed by the city in 1994 that sought to demolish the property after the owner failed to bring the establishment up to code.

The owner, Martin Barry Canter, could not be reached for comment. According to a letter the landlord sent to the city Nov. 8, 1994, he consented to have the building demolished because it was too costly to repair.

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