Molestations Point to LAPD Shortages : But Residents Must Be Willing to Share the Costs of Equipment and Expanded Force

The case of what is believed to be a serial child molester, still at large in the San Fernando Valley, already raises some important questions and issues.

1. Was the public informed quickly enough?

The person suspected of molesting as many as 26 people, mostly school-age children, apparently began his crimes with one incident in February in Canoga Park. The second incident occurred in Van Nuys in April. A third occurred in May, again in Canoga Park. The fourth happened in June in Reseda. But there were three in July, including two on the same day in the LAPD's Van Nuys division. There were five suspected child molestations by the same perpetrator in August in the West Valley, North Hollywood and Devonshire divisions.

The cases and their similarities were not made public by the LAPD, however, until mid-November, after the frequency and severity of the incidents had increased.

2. When it came to putting out the word, there were too few words.

The first LAPD description of the suspect did not arrive at this newspaper until 9:45 p.m. on Nov. 15, a curiously late hour if the idea is to circulate warnings and information requests to as many people as possible. Two different composite drawings of the same suspect were also released that night.

3. Attention from the top.

Police Chief Willie Williams is a busy man, and no one can reasonably expect the LAPD's top brass to make personal appearances wherever serious crime occurs. But Williams went to a town meeting in the Oakwood section of Venice during a time of gang-related bloodshed. The visit calmed fears, raised confidence, and showed that the LAPD was on the case. Arguably, the child molestations in the west San Fernando Valley are a matter of similar import.

Some timely words from the chief may have been especially welcome, helpful and reassuring given that the Valley just had lost its own highly respected top cop, Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker, to a transfer. The distressing news about the serial child molester also came during a week in which Kroeker's replacement was on vacation.

4. The few, the proud, the hamstrung.

LAPD detectives blame personnel shortages and unsophisticated equipment for hampering their work. It has to be part of the problem when one reads in The Times of squad cars too old to avoid stalling, search warrants delayed because officers had no cellular phone, operations postponed by the need to borrow equipment, handcuffs that jam.

The serial child molester case points out the need for a larger, and better-equipped force, and for residents willing to help pay for them.

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