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Northeast Valley Police Make Loud Partygoers Face the Music

'Party car' halts events including a 150-person Pacoima gathering in efforts to quiet the area.

July 05, 2004|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police officers charged with breaking up loud and unruly parties know the fastest way to find out who is in charge.

"Trust me, you hook the deejay, they'll find the owner," said Officer Casey Sbabo.

It was after 11 p.m. Friday and more than a dozen LAPD officers ushered out stragglers from the group of more than 150 mostly teenagers -- including suspected gang members -- who helped turn a vast dirt yard in Pacoima into a dance floor.

The officers led the deejay away from his battery of amplifiers, turntables and assorted electronic equipment. His arms were placed behind his back. They asked where the property owner was.

The forlorn-looking young man -- anxious to avoid a ticket -- asked his friends to go look for the man.

"Go get him, or else the deejay gets arrested," Sbabo said.

"The deejay has a lot of money invested in his equipment. He's not going to mingle with the crowd. He's tied to his equipment," Sbabo explained.

Within minutes, Jose Rosario Galvan, 74, received a citation for the loud party. Galvan said the property belonged to a niece and that he had thought it would be nice to give young people a place to have a good time without causing trouble.

"I think it was unjustified that the police were called," Galvan said. "I had talked to all the neighbors, and they said this would be fine."

In a city where police responded to more than 43,000 loud-party calls last year, the northeast San Fernando Valley neighborhoods patrolled by the Foothill station routinely tops the list. Last year, there were 3,404 loud-party calls in the area.

Many times the problems reported are shaking windows, sleep-depriving decibels, underage drinking, littering and overflow crowds.

And police say there are more than 5,000 gang members in the area who add more danger to large, alcohol-filled parties.

"For a lot of these parties, they pass fliers out to thousands of kids across different neighborhoods, with different gang affiliations," said Capt. Kirk Albanese. "That's a recipe for disaster."

On May 8, two suspected gang members crashed a Sylmar party attended by hundreds of people who were charged admission illegally. The suspected gang members argued with some of the guests, and shot two of them, police said.

Antonio Vasquez, 27, of Panorama City and Hector Villareal, 23, of Lake View Terrace were killed. They were not gang members, police said.

As a result, the Foothill station developed the "party car" detail, a Friday and Saturday night assignment that usually lasts from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The party car's purpose is to check on neighborhoods and locations with chronically loud and unruly parties and to respond to residents' complaints.

"When people are throwing parties and they don't know who's showing up, that's when the real problems start," said Sgt. Jay Roberts. "That's what happened at the party with the double homicide."

For that event, the mother of a teenager about to have a birthday had her son pass out hundreds of fliers to local high schools, Roberts said.

"They charged $3 a head at the door," he said. "What ends up happening is that people show up who don't get along, who have gang rivalries."

Albanese said shutting down parties poses potential problems.

"Now you're releasing 150 kids into the community with alcohol in their veins," he said. "You have to wonder how many will get home all right."

It is illegal to charge admission for any private party, to provide alcohol for minors or to create amplified sound that carries more than 150 feet from the property. Minors also have a 10 p.m. curfew.

At the Pacoima party, Officers Larry Martinez and Jose Torres immediately realized they needed backup. Police believed some of the youths leaving the party or milling around could be gang members. Beer bottles sat on the property's cinder-block wall and a dark blue tarp covered the gate.

"The last time there was a tarp, we got rocks and we got bottles thrown at us," Torres said. "There's no way of knowing what's behind the tarp."

Martinez used his bullhorn to order the crowd to disperse before officers searched the yard and asked for the owner. Within minutes, the party was over, the deejay was let go, and Galvan, the man responsible for allowing the party, was left facing a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail.

Earlier that night, Torres and Martinez drove to a party in Sylmar where a punk-rock band played. About 150 people, many of them teenagers, wandered in front of the house. A young couple lay in the grass of a neighbor's house. A few clutched beers.

"Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do, what you gonna do when they come for you," a teenage boy sang as he walked by Torres.

"Don't quit your day job, dude," Torres said.

The owner of the home, Isai Garcia, 19, said he was the lead singer of a band called Ten Seconds To Go.

"We just invited friends to celebrate with us since we just signed a record deal," Garcia said.

He apologized for any inconvenience and promised to shut the party down quickly.

Garcia said he had gone to the Foothill station two weeks before to ask for permission to have the party. He said officials told him they couldn't prevent people from having parties, but his celebration could be shut down if it got out of hand or too loud.

"It was just a matter of time," Garcia said.

Suddenly he noticed the lights and growl of a police helicopter overhead.

"Man, that's too much," Garcia said.

"If he had been cited," Martinez explained later, "he would have to pay for the fuel for that helicopter."

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