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ON THE TRAIL OF VALLEY PAROLEES; 'THEY KNOW WE'RE CHECKING ON THEM' TO CATCH RE-OFFENDERS, SAYS COP.

Byline: Lisa Van Proyen Staff Writer

When seven police officers converged on Ernesto ``Punish'' Hernandez's home and searched it, they didn't need a warrant.

In fact, the police didn't even need to show they had probable cause that searching his home would show proof of criminal activity.

The reason is that Hernandez is a parolee, one of 33,963 in Los Angeles County and some 6,345 in the San Fernando Valley, a number that increases in the Valley by 8.1 percent every year.

And as a parolee, Hernandez is subject to searches and questioning by law enforcement authorities at any time, anywhere, for the term of his parole.

Police, prosecutors and parole agents say parole is a powerful weapon in preventing crime, given the most recent statistics that show about three out of every five parolees commit crimes that land them back in prison.

``Even when we don't get anything, they know we're checking on them,'' said Los Angeles police Sgt. Steve Carmona, who oversees the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery team, an anti-crime unit at Foothill Division that works closely with parole officers to keep tabs on re-offenders.

``It keeps people in check more to keep crime down.''

CRACKING DOWN ON PAROLEES

About every six months, parole officers join police officers for Valley-wide sweeps on parolees' homes, and the search of Hernandez's home was part of one of those sweeps.

Hernandez is on parole for possessing marijuana for sale. Inside his father's home in Pacoima, officers searched his bedroom, coming up with ammunition and two .22-caliber rifles.

That was enough to show Hernandez had violated a condition of his parole.

His father denied the weapons belong to Hernandez.

``The guns have been registered to me for many years,'' the father told police. ``My son has been staying away from gangs.''

``He can't stay at a place where you are keeping guns,'' Carmona answered.

Now he is at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castiac awaiting a parole hearing.

In the Foothill Division, senior anti-gang Officer Mike Smith said the most frequent re-offenders are the narcotics violators. They tend to get caught committing ``any crimes that allow them to get money for narcotics, such as burglaries and robberies,'' he said.

PAROLEES: NUMBERS ON THE RISE

At least once a month, officers update their 4-inch-thick notebook filled with background on parolees in their area.

``We have more people going in (to prison) and if they're going in, they're coming out,'' said Levan Bell, the regional administrator for the Department of Corrections in Los Angeles County.

Parolees are generally released back to their last county of legal residence to re-establish their lives.

Los Angeles County houses about 29 percent of the state's 118,136 parolees, said Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections.

Currently, there are 75 parole officers in Los Angeles County - a 15 percent increase in a year.

FITTING BACK INTO SOCIETY DIFFICULT

Often, ex-cons purposely take risks that put them behind bars where life is simpler.

``They ally themselves with other inmates. They have a sense of security. If you've been taken care of for 10 years, you have to go back and face things,'' Bach said. ``No one's going to fix your meals for you. Nobody's going to pay your bills for you. They find it easier to go back to prison.''

Parolees face up to a year in prison for a parole violation, on top of a sentence for the new offense that constituted the parole violation.

Most parolees in the Valley opt to stay with family and friends. Others choose to live in one of a number of halfway houses in the Valley.

Wayne Haradin has been on parole since 1994 after serving time for an assault, and he considers himself fortunate that his mother and fiance were waiting for him when he was released.

The Tujunga man's first challenge was standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his driver's license.

``I felt like everyone was staring at me, like I was different, like everybody knew,'' the 37-year-old said.

He was trembling by the time he reached the clerk and had to ask her to fill out the forms for him.

``I told her I was just out of prison and she helped me fill them out.''

Haradin earned a degree in graphic arts while in jail, but still slipped twice after his release - committing an assault, and using alcohol and stimulants.

His parole term is up at the end of this year, he said.

``It was not easy,'' Haradin said.

He now works servicing spas, regularly reports to his parole officer and has purchased a new three-story home for his fiance and himself.

``The fear is to slip back into a corruptive way of life,'' he said. ``So I surround myself with positive people and don't put myself into a predicament.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo: Police Sgt. Steve Carmona questions a parolee's father during a check by police and parole officers on ex-cons.

Eric Grigorian/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 16, 2000
Words:843
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