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Diverse Concerns Voiced at Sheriff’s Get-Together

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the dry, brushy hills of the western San Fernando Valley, they fret about firebugs.

To the east, along the foothill communities bumping up to the San Gabriel Mountains, a recurring concern is illegal target shooting and drug cultivation in nearby canyons. Folks in the southern section of the county want to get rid of wrecks left on streets and lawns that become eyesores. And in Marina del Rey, one of the hotter issues of the moment is boat wakes.

This was Los Angeles diversity of a different sort Saturday as about 150 people from every quarter of the county gathered downtown for a daylong Sheriff’s Department conference intended to draw the huge law enforcement agency closer to the many communities it patrols.

The session, a descendant of the community-oriented policing reforms that gained momentum after the Rodney G. King beating and the 1992 riots, is now in its third year, serving as a kind of grass-roots crime fighters congress for representatives of unincorporated areas across the county.

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Partly an opportunity for the Sheriff’s Department to tout new programs to combat gangs, hate crimes, family violence and sex offenders, the conference at the Twin Towers jail facility also highlighted the disparate crime and law enforcement concerns communities are grappling with.

Community Advisory Council members from each of the department’s stations, all formed since 1992, spoke of their particular challenges and accomplishments. An Agoura Hills area resident described the formation of an “arson watch” group to help protect homes in fire-prone areas. A woman from the La Cresenta area said residents are working with deputies to stop gun enthusiasts from wandering too close to homes when they take to the hills for target shooting.

Members of an Asian advisory council based in the San Gabriel Valley realized that multiple language barriers were posing a problem for some residents and deputies working in the field. So the group produced a simple, shirt-pocket card with greetings written in several Asian languages. The card permits a non-English speaker to quickly identify the language, so a deputy can obtain the proper interpreter.

“It’s being used on a routine basis,” said Lt. Stu Heller of the sheriff’s Temple City station. “It’s a simple solution to a complex problem.”

For residents of west Whittier, breaking down the fear of gangs and getting more people involved in reporting crime and joining Neighborhood Watch is the big issue. “People are scared,” said John Olguin, a truck driver who serves on the Pico Rivera station advisory council. “We’re trying to get them more involved.”

In Marina del Rey, some residents living aboard boats are concerned about disruption of another sort--boat wakes that can cause damage. “A big issue right now are the [weekly] boat races,” said Capt. Ruddie Jefferson, who oversees the area.

Whatever the issue, getting the local sheriff’s station more in tune with the worries of residents and solving problems is just what community policing is supposed to do, officials note. “This is really our first attempt to go out and find out what the community wants,” said Assistant Sheriff Mike Graham.


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