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Patrol Units at the Ready for Errant Revelry

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A year after law enforcement agencies prepared for possible millennial meltdowns, their focus tonight shifts to more routine New Year’s safety threats--drunk driving and celebratory gunfire.

Los Angeles police are especially concerned about reducing the number of shots fired into the air around midnight because Valley residents reported increased gunfire last year.

“The bottom line is that bullets come down, somebody’s going to get hurt and somebody’s going to go to jail,” Police Lt. Steven Stein said. “It’s just not worth it.”

A 1988 law made shooting a gun into the air a felony punishable by up to one year in prison.

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Although reports of gunfire were down in Los Angeles overall last New Year’s Eve, there was a sharp increase in celebratory gunfire in the Valley. Last year, the Valley reported 215 such shots, compared with 161 in 1998.

To respond to those calls tonight, the LAPD will have at the ready a team of officers specially trained in suppressing gunfire.

Stein said that, apart from the police teams and public education about the dangers of firing guns into the air, there’s little more police can do to protect the public.

For helping to lower the number of gunshots citywide last year, police credited education efforts that were stepped up in anticipation of millennial excitement.

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Stein said the increased public awareness may have encouraged more people to report gunshots. Consequently, he said, the actual increase may have been in the number of reports rather than in gunfire.

In an effort to reduce injuries, a 1990 city ordinance banned the sale of ammunition in Los Angeles in the week before New Year’s Eve.

Police also will be on the lookout tonight for drunk drivers, an annual concern.

The LAPD Valley Traffic division is responding with twice the usual number of officers on patrol--including special DUI task forces--and at least one Valley DUI checkpoint. Burbank and Glendale police will have added patrols out as well.

Drivers who have had too much to drink can call the Automobile Club of Southern California’s “Tipsy Tow” program at (800) 400-4AAA for a free ride and tow home.

The service will begin at 6 tonight and end at 6 a.m. New Year’s Day. It is open to members and nonmembers within the club’s service area, AAA spokesman Jeffrey Spring said Saturday.

The service is restricted to a one-way, one-time ride to the driver’s home. Reservations are not accepted. After seven miles, regular towing rates could apply. Although tow truck operators will try to accommodate passengers, seating is generally limited to the car’s driver, Spring said. “We don’t have enough room to take the entire party home,” he said.

Bar and restaurant workers, meanwhile, will pay a little closer attention to patrons and their drinking.

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Benito Esparza, assistant general manager at Cha Cha Cha in Encino, said that, despite the restaurant’s special New Year’s Eve celebration, an ordinary night is expected.

“We don’t anticipate that we’ll have to go the extra mile,” he said, “but for the unpredictable, we’ve connected with a hotline with four local taxi services that serve the general area.”

Because the new millennium technically begins at midnight, the LAPD still is on heightened alert for terrorism, though their intelligence sources have turned up no specific threats, spokesman Guillermo Campos said.

“It’s not considered the same big fandango as last year,” he said, “but we’re doing a lot of the same things to be prepared.”

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Times staff writer Jason Song contributed to this article.


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