Fighting Crime Together

Robert Ballesteros "just sort of grew up with gangs." Then he got arrested for fighting in public, possessing marijuana and riding in a stolen car.

His future? "Messed up," he predicted. But that was before the 18-year-old Carson resident enlisted in the California Youth Authority's new boot camp in Whittier. Today, he's under orders to clean up his life.

"It's hard," he said. "You don't get that much rest. You're just so tired. You kind of get mad. But by the end of the night, you don't want to stop.

"I'm going to stay with it all the way. I'm learning responsibility, how to take orders, discipline. I want to finish school and get my high school diploma. Try to find me a job."

Try to find a future free of crime.

The CYA boot camp, which turns wards into cadets, is just one of the many government programs attempting to combat crime.

And while it's sometimes difficult to measure the results of such efforts, even one victory is significant.

When the boot camp platoon leader ordered his men to drop into the push-up position, a cadet groaned and an officer roared.

"Hey, close your mouth! He's not askin' you for your vote!"

But as the recruits scrambled through an obstacle course, two officers barked words of encouragement.

"There you go, there you go, real good! That's the way to hustle!"

And when the recruits stumbled toward the final chin-up bar, fellow cadets gave them a boost.

"I know you're tired."

They're tired, all right. From 6 a.m. reveille to 10 p.m. taps, cadets at the boot camp are on the run. But the lessons they learn on the field - discipline, self-esteem and teamwork - can help them flee lives of crime.

Fifteen youths between the ages of 16 and 21 are being pushed through L.E.A.D., which stands for leadership, esteem, ability and discipline. The four-month program, which began Sept. 15, is the second boot camp in the state. Classes in drugs, gangs and relationships supplement the calisthenics.

Located at the Fred C. Nelles School, the program costs $1.3 million a year. However, no new money is being spent on the camp - and because graduates are released on parole rather than serving the rest of their sentences, there is some savings. A new group enters the program every month.

"It teaches a lot of discipline," said Terrance Nowden, 18, of San Diego. "When I first came, I didn't want to do nothing. I had a few confrontations with the TAC (train, advise and counsel) officers. Standing at attention all day without moving your head . . . it's hard, but I'm doing it now."

Before, Nowden was using PCP, gangbanging, and getting arrested for selling guns and stealing cars. "I guess I was young, falling under the wrong leadership,'' he explained.

Now he's fallen under a firm but caring staff.

"They're telling me how they're out there making a living, and I put it in my frame of mind how I can do the same thing they're doing," he said.

You can ignor other CYA wards who try to pick fights.

"They're jealous," Nowden said. "They see me in here doing this program. They want to see me fail, but I'm not going to give them the satisfaction."

Some cadets may fail. "You've wasted the last two weeks," an officer chided one young man.

"When they began, they were gung-ho," said TAC officer Frank Aragon, an ex-gangbanger himself. "They're starting to feel the stress, the internal conflict of `I don't want to change.'"

Acknowledged 18-year-old Chai Chau, "I didn't think it would be so hard."

But the Los Angeles gang member, who has been arrested for vandalism in Long Beach, said he's matured since he enlisted in the program. He's learning in the classroom and becoming physically fit on the field.

"They find they can be more constructive than being loaded and hangin' with the homeboys," said TAC officer Sherie Ware. "They learn despite themselves."


'Troublemaker' learned to stop

When Alicia Gutierrez was 12, her nickname was Boxer. She tagged it; she lived it.

"I was a troublemaker," she said.

Until Joe Espinosa convinced her to stop it

A 37-year-old deputy probation officer, Espinosa tries to make sure kids like Alicia don't need a probation officer in the future. Assigned to the Downey Unified School District, he is one of about 50 Los Angeles County probation officers participating in the Gang Alternative and Prevention Program (GAPP), which attempts to keep students in school and out of juvenile hall.

Launched in 1988, the $2.5 million program is financed by the ProbationDepartment, cities and school districts. For example, Downey school district officials gladly pay half of Espinosa's $78,000-a-year contract, which includes his salary and administrative costs.

"We have kids who have turned to Joe instead of turning to gangs or violence in the street," said Stan Hanstad, director of pupil services.

"If you help one person, it's worth it," said Espinosa. "The person we help could be the person who didn't steal your car, who didn't kill your kid."

Alicia was referred to Espinosa by a counselor after repeated suspensions from South Middle School.

"When I first met him, I hesitated to talk," said Alicia, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Paramount High School. "Now that I know him, he can't stop me from talking."

When she got into a fight, Espinosa asked her what she could have done instead. More than once, he called her and her opponent into his office to talk the problem out. Sometimes, the problem was as simple as a look.

"She needed someone to listen to her," said Espinosa, who continues to meet with her, even though she has moved from Downey to South Gate.

Without Espinosa's intervention, Alicia said she probably would have joined a gang. Now she's channeled her energy into basketball and softball. She's doing well in school.

"I want to got into psychology," she said. "I like to know what's going through kids' minds."

Grades are up and truancy is down among kids in the program, according to a 1990 study by a criminal justice professor. Of those who were gang members when they entered GAPP, 71 percent later dropped out of gangs.

"This is a job where I feel we make a difference," said Espinosa. "My reward is somebody like Alicia."

"It's more like my reward," said Alicia.


Halting domestic violence in L.B.

It's hard to watch a woman hobble down a hallway after refusing to press charges against the man who beat her. It's hard to hand down a verdict in a domestic violence case after seeing the victim and the batterer smooching in the courtroom cafeteria.

But if police officers and judges understand why victims stay with their abusers, they can do a better job of delivering the proper punishment - and assistance.

In an effort to do just that, the Long Beach Police Department established a domestic violence unit last month. This month, the Long Beach Municipal Court assigned all domestice violence cases to a single judge.

"Victims get shunted around this courthouse like so many cattle," said Presiding Municipal Court Judge Gary Ferrari. "If everthing starts in one courtroom, the judge can really take a look at this case and try to resolve it. This will bring consistency to sentencing."

Recommended by the Police Chief's Women's Advisory Commission, the Police Department's domestic violence unit will also bring consistency and expertise to cases.

"One day you may work a drive-by shooting, the next day you may work domestic violence," said Deputy Chief Jerome Lance. "What we're trying to do is create a detail more sensivive to domestic violence."

Sensitivity is vital, said Sgt. Anne O'Dell, who supervises the San Diego Police Department's 3-year-old domestic violence unit.

"You need to know how victims act, what they respond to, even how to talk to them," she said. "You need to create a case, even if you lose the victim (as a witness)."

Domestic violence homicides in San Diego, which served as a model for Long Beach, dropped 64 percent between 1991 and 1992 - from 22 to 8.

Three female detectives and a male sergeant have been reassigned at no additional cost to Long Beach's domestic violence unit. The officers will receive special training and work closely with child abuse detectives.

"Instead of thinking this is just a case, this is a family who needs help," Lance said.

So far this year, Long Beach police have handled more than 2,300 domestic violence cases. They may handle even more cases next year, when a new law will require health practitioners to report suspected domestic violence to police just as they have to report child and elderly abuse now.

Detectives in the new unit not only will be able to track repeat offenders, but they'll also ease the load of their colleagues.


Norwalk streets a little quieter

The streets of Norwalk are relatively quiet nowadays, said Deputy Wilson, Lee, who works out of one of two city-owned trailers that serve as miniature sheriff's stations.

When Lee and his partners started on the job a couple of years ago, it seemed like gang members, taggers and curfew violators were everywhere.

But the deputies, who routinely park the trailers in the middle of neighborhoods where gangs have been a way of life for generations, say it'sbeen a boring summer.

"It's dead," he said, recently driving his unmarked police car through Vista Verde park, now clean of graffiti. "We have to hunt for curfew violators. We have to hunt for taggers. It's not like before."

"It's almost to the point where we've got to get a video membership so we can have something to do in the trailer," he joked.

Actually, he's taking the extra time to talk to landlords about a city program modeled after one in Long Beach, where landlords give deputies permission to arrest trespassers.

"If you have one apartment that is causing trouble," he tells landlords, "your property values go down, your good tenants move out."

And while Lee would like to take the credit for the slowdown in crime, a big part of it, he said, is a truce that started last spring among the Latino gangs in Norwalk and in surrounding cities.

There are rumors that the truce came about because a prison gang, the Mexican Mafia, ordered it. Or it may just have been older gang members who convinced the younger ones to stop their dangerous ways.


Downey business battling crime

In Downey, the police are trying to help businesses learn how to fight crime.

Business Watch, which was started almost two years ago, attempts to prevent merchants from being victimized. Steve Garcia, a Police Department community relations officer, visits businesses, from large banks to mom and pop stores, and checks for any security gaps.

"We're checking everything from locks to the kind of security lighting they use," Garcia said.

The Downey Chamber of Commerce also participates in the program by sponsoring seminars and demonstrations. In the past year, the chamber has put on a demonstration on avoiding carjacking and another on preventing bank robberies.

Merchants said they appreciate the city's program.

"It's excellent," said John Dupuy, branch manager for First Interstate Bank. "I'd rate Downey at the top."


Channel 3 now a police weapon

In this shoot'em-up, it wasn't the actor who suffered stage fright. It was the innocent bystander.

He was across the street from a downtown Long Beach ATM when a robber drew a gun and grabbed the loot from a screaming customer. The bystander bolted, leaving his girlfriend behind.

Informed a TV show was the only thing being shot, the man sheepishly returned.

"I'm sorry, I was gonna leave you, baby," he told his girlfriend.

Luckily, police were around to intervene when she went ballistic.

Cases of stage fright may be up, but by taking to the air waves, Long Beach police hope to reduce crime waves. Called "F.Y.I.," the 15-minute crime prevention program airs during "Inside Long Beach" on CVI cable Channel 3 at 7:30 p.m. Mondays.

"I use my staff. CVI lends us a camera crew," said Cmdr. Anthony Batts of the Community Relations Department. "We do it on no budget.''

The department went into show business last month with a simulated carjacking so authentic a CHP officer attempted to run down the crooks on his motorcycle. The realistic re-enactments are intended to teach viewers how to avoid becoming victims of crime.

When the carjacking victim was attacked during "Take One," he was reading a map and talking on a cellular phone with the windows down and door unlocked. He didn't get a good look at his assailants.

During "Take Two," the driver sat behind closed windows and locked doors. When the carjackers approached, he floored it and got away. He later provided a description of the suspects to police.

OK, so it's not "LBPD Blue." But Batts is confident the ratings will rise, especially after his officers no longer have to compete with another show packed with violence, "Monday Night Football."