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Police presence to rise at parks

Patrol program is 'empowering officers to become the chief of police of their beat.'

December 11, 2010|By Gretchen Meier, gretchen.meier@latimes.com

Police patrols at city parks and schools will be ramped up starting in January after the City Council this week authorized the new strategy.

The park patrol program has tried several approaches in the past 20 years — including volunteers, park rangers, police officers — with the intent to deter gang activity, vandalism, substance abuse and other illegal activity in Burbank's parks.

"If our parks are not safe in Burbank, then essentially our department is out of business," said Park, Recreation and Community Services Director Chris Dasté. "We need safe parks to do what we do."

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Police Capt. Michael Albanese added that he has high hopes for the new strategy, to be implemented at community parks, as well as within the department as a whole, starting Jan. 5.

"We are empowering officers to become the chief of police of their beat when they are working," Albanese said.

Officers who are dedicated to specific beats will be expected to know problem locations, criminals that frequent their respective areas, to be aware of any crime trends and be on a first and last name basis with people within the area.

Mobile computers in police vehicles have been installed and are now fully operational, allowing officers to input field information and share it with others on the same beat, Albanese said.

Including parks in the beat strategy will also ease the workload on patrol officers, said Sgt. Robert Quesada.

"People feel more safe seeing officers visible in the parks," he said. "And if they're there, crooks see them too and won't bother staying."

Park patrols were most recently funded by federal grants that were quickly depleted by overtime hours to full-time police officers.

Albanese recommended the City Council sit on the remaining money while trying this new strategy.

"I may be back in two months with a new strategy because what I hoped would work didn't," he said. "The linchpin will be how diligent the officers are about managing their beat."

The new program absorbs the park patrol services into the Police Department's existing operating budget and has no fiscal impact on the General Fund, officials said.

"If it doesn't work, then we will come up with something else," Dasté said. "I think this is exactly what we need to do — it's fiscally responsible, and I have every confidence it is going to work."

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