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Drug data won't help Glendale improve its image

Report is based on 2005 numbers, but police say there is no evidence that the situation has changed.

November 10, 2009|Baxter Holmes

Glendale wanted a new image, something fresh that would attract new business. So last month it hired a marketing firm to help point city officials in the right direction.

But the optimism of the undertaking was undermined days later when city officials received a report that showed the city has one of the most advanced drug problems in Los Angeles County.

And though the city report cites 2005 figures, police officers who patrol its streets say there's little evidence that the drug problem has loosened its grip.

"It's very easy to say it can't happen here," said Sgt. Robert Breckenridge of the Glendale Police Department.

"It's very easy to put your head in the sand and say it's not a problem. Then you deal with it on a daily basis and you realize it is a problem," he said.

According to the city's Quality of Life report, which was released Oct. 30 and uses 2005 data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health, Glendale had L.A. County's highest percentage of adults who reported using marijuana and cocaine.

Drug-related arrests have increased in Glendale, according to police.

Through September, the Glendale Police Department reported 876 vice/narcotic arrests, a 245-arrest increase over the previous year. The category includes crimes ranging from drugs to prostitution to smoking infractions.

"I don't know why Glendale seems to have more reported drug use," said Susie Baldwin, who oversaw the survey and is chief of the Health Assessment Unit at the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The survey randomly interviewed 8,648 adults living in L.A. County by phone. A 2007 survey lacked data on drug use and was not included in Glendale's report, which the City Council is scheduled to discuss later this month.

Its release comes days after the city gave North Star Destination Strategies $146,000 for the first phase of a branding campaign designed to ramp up business.

Glendale Mayor Frank Quintero said he doesn't expect the Quality of Life report to affect that campaign or future business.

But some believe the drug usage numbers will be sobering in a community with such a suburban persona.

"Image in Glendale is maintaining our reputation, and our reputation is one that seems to be frozen in time when it was a small suburb of L.A. with suburban problems," said City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian, who spent part of his youth in Glendale.

"And we want to still feel like we have suburban problems. The reality is that we're a big city and we have big city problems."

Che Hill, a part-time inspector who enforces property code violations for the city, said that when he started his job a year and a half ago, his co-workers were shocked at the drug activity he came across in Glendale.

Hill recounted a case last year involving a 70-plus-unit apartment complex so riddled with methamphetamine use that arrests could have been made on every visit. Last month, Hill said, he visited a foreclosed home and found it transformed into an indoor pot farm.

"It's here," he said. "If you're paying attention, you don't even have to be looking for it."

Glendale Police Officer Matt Zakarian said that in recent months, there have been arrests in local schools involving methadone, Ecstasy and LSD. He said he has also seen a surge in heroin use, primarily in foothill neighborhoods.

The drug report comes on the heels of budget belt-tightening that cost the city police force 18 positions in the last year and a half. In addition, the School Resource Officer program, which placed officers on middle and high school campuses, was trimmed from six officers to four, a move resident Marilyn Gunnell said is costly.

"That was a massive disaster," said Gunnell, 67, who has raised five children in Glendale.

Dave Weaver has spent 13 years on the City Council.

"What are we supposed to do about it?" Weaver asked. "Put more police officers up there, right? Catch em? But where's the money?

"A police officer is over $100,000 a year -- $100,000 investment to train them, and then $100,000 a year -- and it takes a year, year and a half to recruit, train and put them on a street as a rookie police officer."

Weaver said he was skeptical when he read the city report, finding the numbers shocking.

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baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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