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Police Car Accident Stirs Anger Among Anaheim Residents

Law enforcement: Some say officers were not contrite after Jeffrey-Lynne twins were hit.

October 23, 1998|RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An accident involving an Anaheim police car that struck twins has angered some residents of the troubled Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood, where police have stepped up enforcement in recent months to combat problems ranging from drugs to gang violence.

The 8-year-old twins--Sandra and Juan Flores--were not seriously injured when the cruiser hit them Sunday in an alley between Jeffrey and Michelle drives. Police say the officer was not speeding and that an ambulance was called to the scene immediately. An investigation was deemed unnecessary.

But some residents offer conflicting accounts of the accident. These, coupled with perceived police indifference to injuries suffered by Sandra Flores, have deepened the feelings of wariness and mistrust of police in the neighborhood west of the Disneyland Hotel, residents say.

"Most people think the officer was speeding, and he didn't care about the little girl," said Francisco Ceja, a resident of Jeffrey-Lynne for 10 years.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 24, 1998 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Orange County Focus Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Accident--A story Thursday about the Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood of Anaheim incorrectly reported the police response after two children were struck by a patrol car. Police investigated the accident before concluding the officer was not at fault.

In general, residents say, a heavy police presence is needed in the neighborhood.

"I think they do a very good job. They're much more vigilant," said 30-year neighborhood resident Cristobal Mendez, speaking in Spanish. "They're on foot now, looking down alleyways and streets. Before there were too many bandits. Now there's hardly any."

But residents say police sometimes go too far. They say aggressive police tactics--such as random stops and body searches intended to snare hardened criminals--are all too frequently used on law-abiding residents.

"They help, but they also treat people badly sometimes," said 12-year resident Sandra Gonzalez, also speaking in Spanish.

Police acknowledge that innocent citizens are occasionally forced to submit to searches, but that it is an inevitable byproduct of a larger effort to reduce crime.

They note that residents asked for the heavy police presence and that no formal actions complaining about police abuse have been filed with the city.

"The people want us to do something about it," said Lt. Charles Chavez, referring to the gangs, drugs and incidents of public disorder that residents cite as the area's biggest problems. "We have to be high-profile. It's a high-maintenance area."

The Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood, a three-block area dense with apartment buildings housing some of the city's poorest residents, is the city's most problematic. While crime in other neighborhoods citywide has dropped, in Jeffrey-Lynne problems persist.

Drug-dealing is common in the alleys that separate the apartment buildings, and the neighborhood is home to one of the county's most active gangs.

In response to a surge in crime earlier this year, police in May assigned a community policing team to the area. Though residents historically have had rocky relations with police, the unit was initially welcomed. Within months, however, relations had soured again.

The situation was not helped by Sunday's accident. The twins were crossing the alley to attend a cousin's baptism party when they were struck.

Sandra Flores needed seven stitches to mend a gash to her upper thigh; Juan Flores, whose shoe was partly crushed by the car's wheel, suffered bumps and bruises.

Police say the children ran in front of the car and that the officer, who was driving no faster than the 15-mph speed limit, did not have time to stop.

Some residents, though, said witnesses told them the officer was going as fast as 25 mph--too fast in an alley where children often play.

Apart from the disagreement over the accident itself, some criticize police for their handling of the case.

Since the accident, mother Maria Flores said, police have not inquired about her children's health or come by to apologize. The perceived lack of concern is hurtful, she said, speaking in Spanish, because her family does not have medical insurance and is worried about receiving the bill for the emergency room visit.

"They could at least say I'm sorry," she said.

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