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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

County's Peace Officers Ready to Help L.A. at DNC

Safety: Sheriff's deputies from here and elsewhere, as well as the state and the National Guard, can be mobilized if needed.

August 01, 2000|JENIFER RAGLAND and JIM NEWTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Doing their part in the large-scale security effort planned for this month's Democratic National Convention, nearly two dozen Ventura County California Highway Patrol personnel will be deployed to Los Angeles for the four-day political pep rally.

They are among hundreds of law enforcement officials from across Southern California who are preparing for the convention. Sheriff's deputies from Ventura, Orange and Santa Barbara counties also will be called, or at least standing by, in case the Los Angeles Police Department needs reinforcements, as will federal and local authorities from across the region and beyond.

Aside from LAPD and CHP forces staffing the convention, more than 500 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies will provide security for delegates' transportation between hotels and Staples Center, the downtown arena where the convention will be staged, said Sheriff's Department Capt. Michael Kenyon. The department will also station tactical platoons in strategic spots throughout Southern California, he said.

If things were to escalate beyond the abilities of those resources, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca could ask for additional law enforcement support from L.A.'s 41 municipal agencies, said Assistant Chief Stan Roberts, a mutual aid coordinator in the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. By state law, it is the county sheriff who has the authority to summon those officers.

And "if all those police officers in Los Angeles County can't hang with this, then we go to the neighboring counties," Kenyon said.

Orange County would be first on that list, followed by Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and finally the state and the National Guard. Gov. Gray Davis would have to give the go-ahead for the National Guard to deploy into the city, as it did in 1992 when Los Angeles was consumed by riots after the first Rodney G. King beating trial.

The "worst-case scenario" planning process for the convention is much like the one in anticipation of mayhem on New Year's Eve, authorities said. That occasion passed virtually without incident, and officials never turned to the regional mutual aid system.

"The rule is you use up all of your resources before you go asking for help, because it's expensive," Roberts said.

The Ventura County contingent will include 17 CHP officers, three sergeants and one captain from the county's 95-member staff, said Capt. Richard Owens. No vacations have been canceled; the office will use overtime to augment normal schedules, he added.

Meanwhile, Ventura County sheriff's deputies and firefighters will be ready to respond to mutual aid requests in case serious trouble breaks out at the convention, Aug. 14-18.

Exact numbers of officers were not available from Orange and Santa Barbara counties, but Los Angeles officials said they are confident those agencies have enough people standing by to fill any need.

More than 35,000 delegates and members of the media will be in Los Angeles for the national convention, which is expected to culminate with the nomination of Al Gore as the party's presidential candidate. Joining them will be hordes of activists protesting on a variety of issues, from police brutality and capital punishment to environmental causes and gay rights.

Los Angeles law enforcement agencies are mobilizing for the event, mindful of disruptive protests during the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last December and the World Bank meeting in Washington, D.C., in April.

Protesters in Seattle shattered glass, trashed streets and caused other property damage totaling $15 million. In Washington, however, a large and visible show of force helped keep the protests peaceful, with little damage resulting.

A smaller incident in downtown Los Angeles after the Lakers basketball championship win prompted business owners to plead with law enforcement to be better prepared for potential unrest during the Democrats' convention.

But it would take a crisis on the scale of the 1992 riots, which resulted in 53 deaths and $1 billion in damage, before police personnel from outlying counties would be asked to help to keep the peace, said Roberts.

"It just depends on how things unfold and where they occur," he said.

The '92 riots were the last time L.A. needed an assist from neighboring counties. Afterward, LAPD officials were widely criticized for taking too long to ask for help. The National Guard eventually did take up positions throughout much of the city, but it took more than a day of looting and violence before they were summoned and many anxious hours more before they were deployed.

Once on the streets, some had only a single cartridge in their rifles because of an ammunition shortage, but the guard's mere presence had a calming effect in many riot-torn areas.

"The difference we have today with the Democratic National Convention is that it's a planned event, so you know a little bit ahead of time what you're getting into," Roberts said.

*

Ragland is a Times Community News reporter and Newton is a Times staff writer.

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