The city is trying to make police service more accessible to residents by taking it to where they congregate most frequently: schools.
"It's community-oriented, problem-solving policing," said South Gate Police Capt. George Troxcil at Stanford Avenue Elementary School, where the city last week opened its second school-based Neighborhood Police Information Center. "Whatever residents think their needs are, we are going to bring it to them."
City Hall and block watch meetings are often the places where general information on city services are provided. But because those meetings attracted few residents, the city decided to reach out to the community through the schools, Troxcil said. About 25,000 of the city's roughly 90,000 residents are school-age.
At the police centers--tables set up in the lobby or auditorium of the schools--residents can file complaints or fill out crime reports. People can also learn about earthquake preparedness and burglary prevention from volunteers at the table.
The first center opened in November at Montara Avenue School.
"The community is looking cleaner, parents are talking to parents, and crimes that weren't being reported are being reported," Troxcil said.
Bilingual parent volunteers Maria Rivera and Eva Gutierrez, who staff the Stanford center, have already collected requests for tree trimming, a report about a neglected front yard and information about a reputed local drug dealer.
"Some people have a certain fear of the police for whatever reasons, so this makes it easier for them to communicate (with police)," Gutierrez said. The center will operate Tuesdays from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m.
Both Gutierrez and Rivera said they believe more women will be encouraged to report spousal abuse through these centers rather than asking police to come to their homes.
Because South Gate has a large population of Latino immigrants, many residents avoid authorities, especially since the passage of Proposition 187. The voter-approved measure, which has been tied up in the courts and is not in effect, would require public employees to report those they suspect of being undocumented to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
This center "is the best way for the (Latino) community to gain a better relationship with the police," said Maritza Lobo, a parent who attended the center's opening. "This is something many of us are going to take advantage of."
Nearly 80 parents and their children attended the center's opening, at which a bilingual lecture on school traffic safety was presented by police officers.
"Hopefully this is a concept that can grow," said Stanford Principal Michael R. Repp. "People want to help, and with this, parents can feel that they can reach out to police enforcement."
Liberty Boulevard School is the next school that will have a center, Troxcil said, adding that by mid-1997 all 10 of the public elementary schools in South Gate will have a police information center.
Information: (213) 563-5454.