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LAPD staffing taking heat as Valley streets get a bit meaner

With crime numbers up, area council members contend more officers are needed. Police brass say some help is coming.

July 26, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

The San Fernando Valley remains a sore spot for the Los Angeles Police Department, with major crime up slightly so far this year despite it dropping citywide.

The trend -- led by a 15% rise in gang-related crime, a 3% jump in robberies and 17% more shootings -- is causing grumbling among Valley political leaders and prompting LAPD brass to boost staffing there.

"It is a geographic area that we haven't found the answer to yet because of its size," said Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger. "Anytime we apply resources in the Valley it has to be very focused."

With the Valley's far-flung police stations, some area officials said there are too few officers responding to too many calls. L.A. Councilman Greig Smith, an LAPD reserve officer, said he counted two to six available cars patrolling each of the Valley's six divisions on a recent night -- less than half of what he and other officials believe it should be.

Although the LAPD is hiring more officers, Smith and others say the Valley is being particularly hard hit by the loss of retiring veterans. Foothill Division, where violent crime is up a fifth this year, is increasingly being patrolled by rookie cops, Smith said.

"We got really new officers training really really new officers," he said.

Despite the rise, Valley crime remains less prevalent and less violent than in South Los Angeles, where the LAPD has over the last six months focused more resources in a well-publicized attack on gang violence.

"It seems the Valley once again is getting shortchanged," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the West Valley and remains a reserve officer after years as an officer. "We have a new station opening in my district but there is no one to put in there."

LAPD brass dispute that the Valley is not getting its fair share of resources. But Paysinger said the LAPD in recent months has been trying to bring more resources into the area.

The LAPD has added 140 officers to task forces operating in the Valley, bringing the number of officers there to more than 1,650 -- more than any other bureau in the city, he said.

In coming weeks the LAPD fugitive task force will also be deployed to the Valley, he said.

But Paysinger warned that the Valley is half of "the city's land mass. The West Valley Division is 60 square miles. No matter how many resources are put there they get swallowed up."

When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week announced that city crime was down so far this year, he conceded that the Valley "remains one of our toughest challenges."

In the Foothill Division, robberies are up 22% -- 40 more than last year at this point. Overall violent crime that includes homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults has jumped 19% -- 525 crimes compared with 441 last year.

Paysinger said the crime uptick in some Valley neighborhoods is being fueled by more parolees, tagging crews and gang members -- particularly in foothill neighborhoods.

There are bright spots in the Valley. There have been eight fewer homicides than last year. Burglaries are down 9%. Violent crime fell 12% in the Devonshire Division and 10% in the West Valley. Citywide, violent crime is down 8% and homicides fell 21%.

One of the biggest complaints from Valley leaders is that the LAPD has too few officers on basic patrol.

Too often, Councilman Zine said the LAPD is harvesting from Valley divisions to staff task forces.

"We have eight officers in Valley traffic," Zine said. "Patrol used to be the backbone for department. Now it is the tailbone."

LAPD officials insist the Valley is not being singled out.

The department is hiring more officers but has also seen a large number of retirements, Paysinger said.

"It is cyclical change. Every decade the department undergoes this change with new young faces."

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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