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In ‘tough’ Willowbrook, sheriff’s deputies ask residents for advice

Corner Pocket resident Elizabeth Lopez talks about a survey conducted by sheriff’s deputies on policing and safety in her neighborhood.

The knocks started just after 9 a.m. in Willowbrook. Sheriff’s deputies moved down the streets of a rough neighborhood known as Corner Pocket, tapping on gates with flashlights and calling through open windows.

Is something wrong, asked residents, some still in pajamas. Are you looking for someone?

Nope, deputies told them, holding out clipboards and pens. We just want your opinion.

In an effort to gather information about crimes and improve trust in law enforcement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatched more than a hundred deputies and volunteers to Willowbrook on Saturday to survey residents about safety and policing. Deputies set out to knock on 1,200 doors in the area, long known for gang activity, and collect as many as 600 written surveys.

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“I think this is great,” said Samuel T. Williams, 78, after filling out a survey in a friend’s yard on Wayside Street. He said he found the “no snitching” attitude among some younger people tiresome and hoped the deputies’ show of concern would be a reminder that “the police are not our enemies.”

The survey asked residents seven questions, including whether they feel safe walking after dark in the neighborhood and what they consider the most pressing criminal issue in their immediate area. Residents had the option of listing the location of a specific crime for sheriff’s officials to investigate.

Capt. Jeffrey Perry of the Community Partnerships Bureau, which organized the survey, said similar canvases in different parts of the county have drawn out people with information about drug dealing or other crimes.

Sheriff's Deputy David Brewer conducts a survey in Willowbrook.
Sheriff’s Deputy David Brewer conducts a survey in Willowbrook.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times )

Those people, he said, don’t call 911 because they think “it’s not going to do any good. But when you knock on their door they are like, hey, [deputies] really do want to know.”

Elizabeth Lopez, who has lived in Corner Pocket for 29 years, said she often watches the street from her upstairs window and doesn’t hesitate to phone police if she sees suspicious activity.

“A lot of people are afraid to call though,” she said.

The 61-year-old retired dental assistant said the area had improved over the years, but “the violence is still there.”

Crime in Willowbrook is down from historic highs, but it remains a dangerous place.

Nearly every home is surrounded by a tall, spiked iron fence. Guard dogs are the norm. There were two homicides in August, and residents surveyed Saturday morning said they often hear gunshots at night.

Capt. Kerry Carter, who took over command of the Century Sheriff’s Station six months ago, raised his family in nearby Compton and patrolled the streets of the area as a deputy. He said there was no doubt that the community is safer, but he still wouldn’t feel comfortable walking at night by himself because of gang violence.

“This is a tough area,” he said.

While his deputies chatted with residents, Carter said he hoped the casual conversations might “make it easier for deputies and community members to communicate when you have those shootings.”

The most common complaints that deputies received Saturday weren’t about serious crime, but about public nuisances like speeding cars near the elementary school and the perennial L.A. problem of illegal vendors. On one street, deputies conducting surveys were passed by a man hawking ice cream and a woman offering Mexican food from a shopping cart.

Carter called it a “supply and demand” issue, noting that while some residents complained, others were buying tamales.

Standing at her fence, Mariana Amar, a mother of two, said she was excited to fill out the survey.

“I’m very pleased that you guys are actually walking around,” she told deputies.

She recalled that several years ago, police stopped her and her husband as they drove with their children in East L.A. It was a case of mistaken identity quickly resolved, but her children remained scared of law enforcement for a long time. Her daughter now wants to be a detective, an aim she encourages.

In two to three weeks, sheriff’s officials will hold a town hall to share the results of the surveys and their plan for addressing the concerns of the community.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

@latimesharriet


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