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JOINING FORCES L.A., SAN FERNANDO POLICE TEAM TO FIGHT GANGS AS SWAT GRIEVES, DEPUTIES, FBI FILL IN.

Byline: Rick Coca

Staff Writer

PACOIMA -- As cops rolled up outside the large apartment complex, gang members did a double take.

Seeing Los Angeles Police Department officers in their neighborhood was nothing new. But seeing city of San Fernando police officers sitting in LAPD patrol cars -- now that might take some getting used to.

"Whoa, what are San Fernando officers doing out here?" one of them was overheard asking.

It's not so unusual to see peace officers intermixed with their brothers in blue, both in times of crisis and calm.

Now, with the LAPD's SWAT unit grieving over last week's fatal shooting of Officer Randal Simmons and wounding of Officer James Veenstra, special weapons tacticians from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have agreed to offer aid.

The teams often respond to one another's calls for large incidents, but with officers preparing to bury their fallen comrade, LAPD needed additional help.

As a result, county and federal teams will be on call to respond to the 468-square-mile territory SWAT normally protects.

While these temporary pledges to cover one another are fairly commonplace, the San Fernando Police Department -- which also sent officers to Monrovia police to cover a recent flare-up of shootings -- and the LAPD are working to deepen their relationship on a level not tried since the 1980s.

During the past couple of months, about 15 of the smaller agency's 21 patrol officers have gone on weeklong patrols with six gang unit officers from the LAPD's Foothill Division.

Next, they'll do the same with officers from the LAPD's Mission Division. The two departments hope the shared intelligence will lead to more gang arrests.

LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore was a Foothill sergeant the last time the program was in effect. More recently, he and Robert Ordelheide, city of San Fernando police chief, decided they would revisit their departments' past to help their future.

"Sometimes what's old is new again," Moore said.

"I hope it's something we can continue in the coming months and coming years," he said. "Our people are finding value with it."

With Mission and Foothill surrounding San Fernando, rival gangs often crisscross the three areas, police said.

"They're going through San Fernando," said LAPD Lt. Pete Durham, who heads up Foothill's Gang Impact Team. "They're going to settle some of their beefs in San Fernando."

Besides information sharing, the program offers a psychological advantage, police say. Northeast Valley gang members might start rethinking the perceived limits of each department's borders, SFPD Lt. Tony Ruelas said.

"When they see San Fernando (police) patches outside our city in Sylmar, Pacoima, North Hollywood, they know there's no distinction between agencies," he said. "They know we're working together to combat gang violence in the east San Fernando Valley."

Before the patrols began, the two agencies set up guidelines for the effort. One stipulated that each department would interview its own officers in case they were involved in a shooting or any other incident that would require departmental investigations.

"Making sure everybody's on the same sheet of music," Durham said.

Police procedures aside, the biggest adjustment for many of the San Fernando officers is the amount of area their LAPD counterparts cover nightly.

While the city of San Fernando encompasses just 2.4square miles, its Police Department fields as many as five patrol units to cruise the city on any given night.

In Foothill Division, not counting the gang-unit officers, roughly the same number of LAPD units patrol 46square miles, covering Arleta, Lake View Terrace, La Tuna Canyon, Pacoima, Shadow Hills, Sunland-Tujunga and Sun Valley.

"It's a lot different," said SFPD Officer Saul Garibay, on patrol with LAPD officers one recent Friday evening. "You don't drive around the same area over and over like we do. It's a lot harder to learn people's names. We know them by sight.

"We usually narrow it to 'those guys, that house."'

In another patrol car, LAPD Officer Mike Yoro drives while his partner for the evening, San Fernando Officer Walter Dominguez, checks the status of approaching cars by running their license plate numbers through a laptop.

The two talk shop as the Foo Fighters rock out on low volume in the background.

"You guys get any San Fers?" Dominguez asks Yoro about the Northeast Valley gang that fights with several Pacoima gangs.

"We get a lot of Pacoima Boys," Dominguez continues. "They come to San Fernando."

Yoro, who has also worked the gang detail in the Hollenbeck Division, says he has found that Valley gangsters are "more mobile" than their East Los Angeles counterparts, making shared information with other law enforcement officers such as Dominguez all the more productive.

"It's been my experience when we work with other agencies the gang intelligence is important because, like anyone else, gang members move around," Yoro said. "You learn who's living in what area, what they're up to, ... who's a San Fer living on a specific street."

Even before it officially got off the ground, the collaboration had already led to arrests related to a string of burglaries in San Fernando where thieves, believed to be gang members, were stealing weapons from residences, Ruelas said.

At a meeting late last year to discuss operational details between the two agencies, Ruelas showed LAPD officers pictures of a van suspected of being used in one of the robberies.

A gang officer from Mission recognized the vehicle immediately.

"Lo and behold," Ruelas said, "the night before, he had impounded the van."

Staff writer Brent Hopkins contributed to this story.

rick.coca(at)dailynews.com

818-713-3329

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) LAPD's Mike Yoro, left, and the San Fernando Police Department's Walter Dominguez patrol together in Sun Valley. The two departments hope the shared intelligence will lead to more gang arrests.

(2 -- color) San Fernando police Officer Walter Dominguez, left, and LAPD Officer Mike Yoro question a suspected gang member during their joint shift on the gang detail in Sun Valley.

(3 -- color) LAPD Officer Mike Yoro, left, and San Fernando police Officer Walter Dominguez question a suspected gang member during their joint shift.

(4 -- color) no caption (badge)

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 10, 2008
Words:1029
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