'Quiet' Glendale Suddenly Hit by Big-City Crimes

Times Staff Writer

When Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Marissa N. Batt was put in charge of the Glendale-area office in September, she expected her assignment would be relatively uneventful because she had heard the city was a "nice, quiet, well-behaved community."

But things didn't turn out that way.

"I thought the worst thing we had to worry about here was drunk driving. As far as heavy murder, I didn't expect a spate of those. But it's been one thing after another," she said.

Indeed, Glendale's image as a sleepy, bedroom community has been belied in the past year by a spate of major crime that has received intense media coverage, and at times left law enforcement officials reeling. City police say they cannot remember a period when so many incidents happened so close together.

As a result of the unexpected number of big cases, police investigators have had to work more overtime, courts have had to appoint more defense attorneys for indigent defendants and there have been political disputes over the handling of cases.

The notable incidents since July 1985 include:

A double-slaying of an elderly couple linked to the Night Stalker case.

The gangland-style killing of a suspected drug dealer.

The Domino's Pizza case, in which a delivery boy was dispatched to a motel room, where he was bound, gagged and left to drown in a bathtub while the restaurant he worked for was robbed of $2,000.

The gunning down of a Glendale businessman in front of his company, which police say was the work of hit man.

The shooting death of Filipino-American newspaper executive Oscar Salvatierra, allegedly by his son, in a case that originally was thought to have international political ramifications.

The fatal shooting by police of a man who was clutching a television remote control unit that officers said they thought was a handgun.

The arrests of 17 suspected drug smugglers and the confiscation of $275,000 and 812 pounds of cocaine worth more than $100 million.

Nonetheless, police say they were more than prepared to address major crimes.

"We're still a small town in many ways, but our police force has the training and ability to deal with big-city problems," Police Chief David Thompson said. "We know Glendale is not immune to violent crime."

City officials like to boast that, although the city is in transition, it still maintains a suburban atmosphere. Within the past decade, the city has seen much redevelopment, with a new skyline of office and apartment towers and thousands of additional people working and shopping in Glendale.

Fourth-Lowest Crime Rate

Despite the busy year, police officials proudly point out that, of 30 California cities with populations of 100,000 to 250,000, Glendale has the fourth-lowest crime rate. According to 1985 crime statistics published by the FBI, the city had four homicides, 17 rapes, 263 robberies and 152 arsons. In contrast, Bakersfield, a city of about 139,000, had 17 homicides, 69 rapes, 599 robberies and 167 arsons.

Said Deputy Dist. Att. Campbell: "Glendale is a lovely town. Just because they had these cases doesn't mean it's turning into a murder capital or something." But John J. McVeigh, who retired in December after 30 years on the Glendale police force, recalls when a burglary arrest was an exciting event. "I remember when it was possible to work a whole graveyard shift (midnight to 8 a.m.) without getting a single call," McVeigh said. "Now it seems like Glendale is catching up with the big cities with all these problems."

Police Chief Thompson said that recent events have not caused the department to make any changes in procedures or tactics, except for developing a narcotics unit that focuses on major smugglers. Police work is the same, whether the case is as large as the Domino's Pizza case or as small as a daytime burglary, he said.

However, the big cases have brought unwelcome attention to a city not accustomed to outside scrutiny. And officials have had to cope with that.

Such was the case on Feb. 19 when reporters from such publications as the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Time magazine descended on Glendale to cover the shooting death of Salvatierra, which was at first linked to agents of former Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos.

'It Was Really a Zoo'

Two days later, when police charged Salvatierra's son, Arnel, and his girlfriend, both Glendale High School students, with the slaying, newsmen rushed to the campus. The school was ill-prepared for the 40 reporters and photographers, and an impromptu press conference had to be held.

"It was really a zoo," said Vic Pallos, spokesman for the Glendale Unified School District.

Police found themselves on the receiving end of some press and public criticism last month when three police officers shot and killed Javier G. Alvarado, 23. The Glendale resident was pointing a silver television remote control at passers-by on a downtown street. Police opened fire when he did not comply with their orders to drop what they thought was a gun. A coroner's report said the victim had traces of PCP and cocaine in his system.

Made News Across Country

The shooting made news across the country, and prompted allegations by friends and neighbors of the victim that the incident could have been avoided if police had spoken in Spanish to Alvarado, a Mexican immigrant who did not understand English.

Among the most stinging criticism was an editorial cartoon in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner that featured a caricature of a Glendale police officer holding a smoking gun and saying, "Use a remote control . . . go to heaven." The cartoon outraged police and prompted a letter to the newspaper from Thompson defending the force.

Other times, big cases have led to disputes among city, county and state officials. For example, when Ruby Padgett and Mitchell Simms were extradited from Las Vegas and charged with the Dec. 9 murder of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John S. Harrigan in Glendale, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner said the pair would be sent to South Carolina first to face charges in similar crimes. Gov. George Deukmejian overruled Reiner, and said the pair would stand trial in California first.

Increase in Case Load

"Everybody got their nose in that case," recalled Judge J. D. Smith, who presides over the Glendale Municipal Court. "Nobody thought to ask the people in this court what we wanted to do."

The case load at Glendale Municipal Court began to increase about 1982, and a third judge and a second court commissioner were appointed to the bench in 1984. Smith said that action has helped the courts stay on top of their caseloads without much delay.

With so many major cases in such a short time, police investigators, prosecutors and public defenders have been forced to work more closely to move cases through the court system swiftly, Batt and other court officials say. But much of the initial work falls on the Glendale Police Department.

Over the last 20 years, the Glendale department has grown along with the city's population. In 1966, there were about 130,000 residents and 136 officers. In 1976, there were about 140,000 residents and 166 officers. Today, the city has a population of about 152,000 and 177 police officers.

Costs Rise

The Police Department spent $634,400 in overtime in the fiscal year that ended in June, contrasted with $522,246 last year. Figures for the actual increase in man-hours were not available, but officials say work on the major cases contributed to the overtime. This month the Glendale City Council approved the hiring of two more detectives to bolster the fight against drug smugglers.

But Thompson says he has not gotten any pressure from the City Council about the recent cases. "People still feel they can go into the city and be safe," he said.

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