Crime & Justice

Sheriff seeks to build trust in South LA neighborhood

LA County Sheriff's Captain Kerry Carter, who heads the Century Station, points out where deputies will be walking door to door to build community trust in Willowbrook near Compton.
LA County Sheriff's Captain Kerry Carter, who heads the Century Station, points out where deputies will be walking door to door to build community trust in Willowbrook near Compton.
Frank Stoltze

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Amid growing scrutiny of law enforcement, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies walked door to door in the community of Willowbrook over the weekend to hear residents' concerns about crime and policing.

The neighborhood sits next to Compton, where a deputy recently killed Donnell Thompson, 27, mistaking him for a carjacking suspect over the summer. In another high profile case in Compton, deputies fatally shot Donta Taylor after he allegedly pointed a gun at them. No gun was found at the scene.

Officials made no mention of the shooting as a reason for the effort to survey residents, but confidence in the department is clearly a concern.

“The primary goal is to build trust and relationships between law enforcement and the residents,” said Captain Jeff Perry, who heads the department’s community partnerships bureau. “We have not recently been to the current survey area.”

More than 100 sheriff’s personnel fanned out across a roughly 30 block area of mostly single family homes just north of Compton. They went from house to house, like door-to-door salesmen, asking survey questions about areas of concern and the performance of the sheriff’s department.

“I’ve been here all my live and this is first time they’ve ever done something like this,” said Karen Caudillo, as she sat in front of her house. Caudillo, 68, and her husband said they’d like to see deputies around the neighborhood more often.

“Its far and between that we see you guys pass by,” she told deputies.

She’s mostly frustrated about the cars that speed down her street. More frequent patrols would help, she said.

After the deputies leave, Caudillo told an observer she knows some cops harass people. She recalled when a deputy grabbed her son, then 16-years-old, as he was weeding in the front yard.

“There’s good ones and there’s bad ones,” she said.

One 24-year-old woman who lives with her parents down the street and who declined to give her name described to deputies rough treatment by their colleagues during a recent stop in front of her house.

“They took me out, shoved me into the police car,” she said. “When I tried to record, they told me I couldn’t record, so they took my phone away.”

It turned out it was a case of mistaken identity, she said.

“It might have been an honest mistake, but they could have been more professional,” she said. “I’ll think about it twice before calling them now.”

The deputies politely listened.

“I appreciate you sharing that story with us,” one deputy said. “That’s why we are doing this survey.”

He then asked her if she’d like deputies to keep an eye on her parents’ house when the family is ever out of town. She thought about it, and nodded her head yes.

Other residents expressed concerns about gang violence. It’s down from a decade ago, but persists along with drug dealing.

But more pedestrian problems came up more often, including speeding, parking and loud parties.

Deputies interviewed more than 500 people in this area of about 1,200 homes, Perry said. They plan to conduct a town hall with the survey results in a couple of months, then tackle the problems people are most concerned about.

People seemed genuinely glad to see deputies swarming their neighborhood for something other than a shooting.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Sal Jamarillo, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than forty years. “We only see them come when there’s trouble.”

“It’s refreshing.”

Karen Caudillo agreed.

“They all look smiling and happy,” she said. “How come they can’t look like that all the time.”