Driven to Serve--and to Commute From Less Pricy Areas : Law enforcement: A high percentage of South Bay police officers cannot afford to live in--or even near--the communities that employ them.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They wear badges, carry guns and face greater on-the-job hazards than most people. But in at least one respect, many South Bay police officers are no different from a lot of people in Los Angeles.

It's a long drive from where they live to where they work. In some cases it's a really long drive--all the way from Chino, Redlands, Oceanside or Temecula.

An informal survey of several South Bay police departments showed more than half of the officers live outside the city that employs them. In Inglewood, the rate is more dramatic: Fewer than 1%--two of the 211 officers--live in the city.

No law requires police officers to live in the city where they work, or even within a certain number of miles of the city. Such residency requirements were abolished in the 1970s. But last month, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report indicating 83% of Los Angeles Police Department officers live outside the city they serve. The ACLU charged that the LAPD is an "army of occupation," composed of officers who live in predominantly white suburbs.

Many South Bay police officers, particularly those who work in the upscale beach communities and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, said they don't live where they work because they cannot afford to.

In Manhattan Beach, for example, nine of the city's 59 police officers reside in the city. The primary reason, said Sgt. John Zea, is the economics of housing and salary.

A beginning Manhattan Beach police officer, Zea said, receives a base salary of about $3,000 a month gross. U.S. census statistics from 1990 showed the median homeowner cost in Manhattan Beach to be about $2,000 per month, and the median monthly rent slightly more than $1,000.

"I'd gladly live here if the city would buy me a house," said Zea, who owned a home in the city early in his police career but now lives in Orange County. "I think a lot of our officers would like to live here. But living costs are pretty high. . . . Our younger officers, especially, have to go for affordable housing."

The only residency requirement for the city's police officers is for members of specialized units, such as K-9 police dog handlers, who must live within a 45-minute "response time" of the city. Motorcycle officers can live wherever they want, but to minimize the mileage on the motorcycles, officers aren't allowed to drive them home if they live farther away than a city such as Lakewood.

Zea said living outside the city doesn't affect the way he and other officers perform their jobs.

"I don't feel any less of a sense of community with Manhattan Beach just because I don't live here now," Zea said. "I have a lot of emotional investment in this city."

It's the same story in Torrance.

"A lot of our officers would like to live here but can't afford it," said Lt. Stephen Gilliam, human resources division commander for the Torrance Police Department. Gilliam said 44% of Torrance's 236 police officers live in the city. Among the out-of-town residents, Gilliam said, is Torrance Police Chief Joe De Ladurantey, who lives on Balboa Island in Orange County, his residence before he took the Torrance job.

Gilliam said beginning Torrance officers earn a base salary of about $3,200 per month. According to census figures, median monthly homeowner costs in Torrance were about $1,300 in 1990, and the median rent was about $800.

Gilliam said the vast majority of Torrance's K-9 and SWAT officers live in the city or adjacent areas.

Lt. Jeff Cameron of the Redondo Beach Police Department agreed that the reason 68 of his department's officers live outside the city, while only 39 live in the city, is money.

"The closer you get to the water the more expensive it is," said Cameron, a 25-year department veteran who lives outside the city. Like other South Bay police departments, Cameron said, the Redondo Beach department requires K-9 and SWAT officers to live nearby in order to reduce "response time" in an emergency.

"It's just out of our price range," Lt. Ed Jaakola said of the city where he works--Palos Verdes Estates, where only four of the city's 23 officers, including Chief Gary Johansen, live. And those officers are able to live there, said Jaakola, because they rent houses the city owns as a result of a legal settlement.

Starting pay for a Palos Verdes Estates police officer is slightly above $2,800 per month, Jaakola said. But 1990 median homeowner costs in the city were about $2,000 per month, and median rent was just over $1,000 per month.

Of all the South Bay cities, Inglewood has the lowest percentage of its officers living there. Chief Oliver Thompson said he is one of the department's two officers who live in the city.

Thompson said that while money is a factor for some, many of the officers are worried about living in the same community as the people they arrest.

"There is a real fear, for example, that if they go to the market and they happen to see someone they've arrested for robbery, that somebody will harass them and find out who their wife and children are," Thompson said.

But Thompson said he is not worried about security.

"I've lived here for two years and never made a secret of my address," Thompson said. "It's never been a problem.

"I wish more officers lived in town. But it's a free country."

As elsewhere in the South Bay, finances for Inglewood officers are a consideration, Thompson said, noting that his mortgage in Inglewood is higher than what he was paying in Riverside. Starting pay for an Inglewood police officer is about $3,100 a month, while 1990 median monthly homeowner costs in the city were about $1,000 and median rent was about $600.

Times Staff Writer Lisa Richardson contributed to this article.

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