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Red Ribbons in La Mirada Used to Battle Drugs

Times Staff Writer

Red Ribbon Week ends here this weekend but volunteers fighting drugs in this city hope the red ribbons that have streamed from street lights along La Mirada Boulevard, from flagpoles in front of homes and from doors and signs in front of businesses will soon be seen in other Southeast-area cities.

The red ribbons were prompted by La Mirada Citizens Against Illicit Drugs, which says the ribbons were designed to show a commitment to stop illegal drugs.

“As a yellow ribbon symbolized missing prisoners of war, and a green ribbon symbolized Atlanta’s missing and murdered children, so should a red ribbon symbolize our refusal to tolerate the loss of one more citizen to illicit drugs,” said Sandy Gambill, a co-chairwoman of the group.

Gambill, also a Norwalk Sheriff’s Station volunteer, said La Mirada is the first community on the West Coast to adopt the Red Ribbon Campaign, which was started by a parent’s group in Virginia. But she said she hopes to have a symbolic red ribbon travel from community to community.

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At a ceremony Tuesday evening, Norwalk Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez accepted the ribbon campaign for his city and said Santa Fe Springs would be targeted next.

Although the ribbons are symbolic, other efforts to fight illegal drugs in La Mirada go beyond symbolism.

A program called Straight Talk offers counseling services for families, individuals and groups on drug-related and other problems. The Southeast Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse also provides counseling for drug and alcohol abusers, their families and employers. The city has instituted a program of volunteer park rangers to patrol parks and recreation areas and to provide, as one volunteer ranger said, “a presence against users and pusher.”

The city is also involved in the Grass Roots Alcohol and Drug Education program which provides counselors to work with students in the schools.

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“I am not worried about the supply of drugs,” said Mayor Lou Piltz. “I am concerned with cutting the demand, and that involves education, especially with the kids. I really saw the need for programs and community involvement when (David) Toma spoke. The kids were looking for help.”

Toma, a tough-talking former New Jersey police officer and addict--the model for the television series “Toma” and “Baretta"--lectures teen-agers on drug abuse. The community raised several thousand dollars to have Toma speak in area high schools in June.

Most crime statistics in La Mirada--a community of 40,000 that calls itself “the Courtesy Capital"--have dropped over the past few years.

Statistics from the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station, with which La Mirada contracts for its police services, show that the crime rate for serious offenses such as homicide, robbery and assault, dropped 21% from 1982-83 to 1983-84. The sheriff’s station patrol division handled 252 narcotics cases in 1984-85; 243 cases were handled the previous year.

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Capt. Lee Baca of the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station, who attended the red ribbon ceremony, said the support of the community was instrumental in decreasing the crime rate in the city, and he lauded the community’s efforts to increase education about drug abuse.

La Mirada has allocated $100,000 to a program in the sheriff’s station to develop the largest narcotics unit in the county, with five investigators added in the past year. Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk have also contributed to the program.

Sheriff’s deputies suggested that the additional manpower paid off last week with the arrest in La Mirada of a man deputies say is one of the major PCP distributors in the local area.


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