SCV NEWSMAKER OF THE WEEK:
Capt. Anthony La Berge
SCV Sheriff's Station Commander
Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Senior Editor
Sunday, January 14, 2007
(Television interview conducted January 8, 2007)
Signal: When exactly did you take command of the Santa Clarita station?
La Berge: Officially it was Dec. 31 at midnight, and my first official business day there was Jan. 2, on Tuesday.
Signal: What did you do on your first business day?
La Berge: First day, I met with the Santa Clarita city manager and his executive staff, and (they) introduced me to a lot of people at City Hall. After that, I took a tour of City Hall with various people there to see the various departments, and (was) just basically getting around to my station personnel and trying to meet everybody there.
Signal: So, who tells you what to do? Is it Ken Pulskamp, our Santa Clarita city manager, or is it Lee Baca, the Sheriff?
La Berge: When I'm taking care of city business, I'm answering to Ken Pulskamp. When I'm dealing with L.A. County Sheriff's Department specific information or business, I'm answering to my boss, Lee Baca.
Signal: Are they ever at odds with each other? You probably haven't been there long enough to run into a situation like that
La Berge: That hasn't come up. I have a chain of command; I have a commander, Cecil Rhambo, and I have my chief, Neal Tyler, so hopefully things can get resolved at those levels before it ever reaches the Sheriff.
Signal: You have the rank of captain
La Berge: That's correct.
Signal: Did you become a captain at the same time you took over the station? Or were you already a captain?
La Berge: I was promoted the rank of captain in November 2005. My first command was the Transit Services Bureau. We handle the law enforcement contract for the MTA, and I had the south bureau of operations, which is the Blue and Green Line light-rail systems, as well as the bus operations down in the Gateway cities, South Bay area, of Los Angeles County.
Signal: And that was where you were, immediately before coming to Santa Clarita?
La Berge: That's correct.
Signal: Where else have you been? When did you join the force, and where in Los Angeles County have you been stationed?
La Berge: I joined the department in 1984, some 22 years ago. My first assignment was out here at the time it was called Wayside Honor Rancho, now referred to as Pitchess Detention Center. I worked at what we called Wayside Max, which is now ... East Facility.
I was there for about 2-1/2 years, and then I transferred out to my first patrol assignment, which was at Lennox Sheriff's Station. I worked six years there, started as a trainee, worked my way up to regular patrol deputy, then a field training officer. I trained several deputy sheriffs there, as their first assignment.
Then I moved into the detective bureau, and I handled robbery and assault investigations. From there, I was promoted to sergeant in 1994, and my first assignment as a sergeant was back at the Pitchess Detention Center, South Facility at that time. I was there a short time and I was able to get back out to patrol relatively quickly.
I went to Crescenta Valley Station, when both Crescenta Valley and Altadena were under a unified command. I worked there for about nine months, and then I was able to win an assignment at our Special Enforcement Bureau, where I was the K-9 sergeant. And there I had the countywide responsibility of supervising our canine handlers as we responded to tactical incidents throughout the county. I was there for approximately four years, and in July 2000, I was promoted to lieutenant.
My first assignment as a new lieutenant was at Century Sheriff's Station, which is down in our southern L.A. area. I did various assignments there: watch commander, special training, special projects, and training and scheduling lieutenant. I was there for about 2-1/2 years and then I took the operations lieutenant position at Compton Sheriff's Station.
As the operations lieutenant, you're kind of like the captain's right-hand man. You're running the internal operations of the entire station so the captain can go out and deal with the community issues and not be bogged down with the tremendous amount of work it takes for monitoring your personnel and running the internal operations. There, I worked for Capt. Cecil Rhambo at the time, and then Capt. Eric Hamilton, and I was lucky enough to be selected to be division aide for my chief in Region 2, Chief Ronnie Williams.
So I left Compton Station, went to headquarters, and I was a division chief's aide for about a year and a half, and then I was promoted in November 2005.
Signal: How does that diverse background help you be in charge of everything here?
La Berge: I have, I think, what's considered a strong patrol background. A majority of my time in the department and experience has been, like I said, at Lennox Station, Crescenta Valley Station; and then working at SCV, we're dealing with patrol-type incidents throughout the whole county, so I've had a lot of experience rolling throughout the county and seeing the various law enforcement issues that affect different areas of the county.
My time as a lieutenant working such busy stations as Century and Compton definitely provided me with a wealth of experience in a short amount of time, and that has helped me with my career, I believe. My working (at) headquarters was definitely an educational experience, one where I was overseeing 10 units, 10 various station commands and each station has its own unique qualities and issues that they're dealing with and working up at headquarters, I get to see all of those. I get to see the issues that every captain is dealing with, and how they report it to the chief and the commanders.
So that definitely prepared me well for this assignment and hopefully for future upward movement.
Signal: You probably had an opportunity to say a lot of this in a recent job interview. How many people applied to be in charge here in Santa Clarita?
La Berge: Well, it's not necessarily an application process. I was contacted by my chief, and the chiefs all got together, and they identify what various assignments may be coming available, and who are they going to put up to apply or to interview for those assignments?
I was selected for this assignment out here partly because I'm a local resident out here; I've been out here for (more than) 19 years. I know that was very important to the city that someone local, hopefully, would be potentially a candidate for here.
There were two other captains who were also put up for the interviews, very good people, very good captains, and we all had the opportunity to interview, and I was fortunate enough to be selected.
Signal: In order to be the commander of a station, do you have to be a captain?
La Berge: No, you can be a lieutenant, and someone who maybe is being considered for a promotion. That happens quite regularly, that lieutenants who have been identified that they are potentially going to be promoted in the very near future will be put up as potential candidates to interview at various assignments.
Signal: If you've been here 19 years, you've been here the entire time Santa Clarita has been a city. While you were working in other places, were you paying attention to law enforcement issues that were going on here?
La Berge: You do. I started back in roughly 1985, around that time period, when I bought my first house and I was a new deputy working the jails out here.
I bought my first house up in Castaic, lived there about 4-1/2 years, got married and bought my second house up in the Saugus area, up Bouquet Canyon. I was there for six or seven years, had a brief absence from the valley for about two years, and decided it was time to come back. The area I tried out wasn't for me, wasn't like Santa Clarita, and came back out here.
I live in the Canyon Country side of the city, for the last six years now, and love the city. It's a great place to raise a family, which is why I live out here and stayed, and came back.
As for being out here, yes my information was basically what I saw in the press, and I would pay attention to some of the stories here. But I'll be honest: Most of my focus is wherever I was assigned. That was my focus; that's where I give my 100 percent attention to. And now that I'm here, now I can put my 100 percent attention toward addressing the issues within the city.
Signal: We sometimes hear people say the SCV Station is a plum assignment. Is it true that everybody wants to be stationed in Santa Clarita?
La Berge: For some people, yes. It all depends on what your career goals are, and what it is you're looking for in the way of activity.
As a deputy sheriff, I wanted to go to the hot, busy, what would be considered "high crime" areas. So I might not necessarily select Santa Clarita as my first assignment. I selected Lennox Station and gained a wealth of experience in a very short period of time down there. Nothing against Santa Clarita, but I think it's a good thing I didn't, you know, it's considered that Santa Clarita isn't as violent as maybe some other areas of the county, where I could learn the most, gain the most police experience in a short amount of time.
But, to each person his own. You never know. People have different family considerations; I was a young, single deputy, fired up and ready to go, trying to get out of custody (detail) in the quickest amount of time possible, and obviously if you go to some of those, what we consider "faster" stations when we say "faster" activity stations, the turnover is greater there sometimes, and you can get out of custody quicker. So that was part of my goal, too. But every person is different, same as sergeants, lieutenants and so forth.
Signal: Over the course of these last 19 years with the city, we've had a lot of different kinds of captains with different kinds of personalities and attitudes. Judging from the ALADS (deputies' union) scores, the rank-and-file hasn't particularly liked the last couple of (permanent) captains. Do you think that with your strong patrol background, you have more of a kinship with your rank-and-file?
La Berge: That's hard to say. To be honest with you, I don't put a whole lot into the ALADS ranking thing. Not to say we ignore it we read them but unfortunately, you don't always get a taste for how many of the entries were positive or negative and so forth. I'll trust the scores for what they are, but you never know.
Sometimes, depending on what's going on with internal union issues, the poor captain who's in place at the time is dealing with negotiations of new contracts, and everybody's morale is down because of information being provided that, you know, things might not be fair, or turning out the way they wanted them to. Suddenly that captain is now the focus of the negativity that's coming out of that process.
So you never know how much of that is geared toward the captain and issues that are totally out of the captain's control, and how much is based on that captain's style and the way they're running the station.
I know in my previous unit, there were some morale issues that I was made aware of when I first came in, and my first goal was to get out there and meet the deputies and let them know what my background was, a strong patrol background. I had my work ethic, and that focused my expectations on what I had for them. It kind of came with validation that I've been out there, I've worked the fast stations, and I had a reputation of being an aggressive deputy aggressive in the sense of proactive and that I wanted to see that with my personnel, and I'm there to support them in doing that mission.
But if they weren't up to that level or able to meet those expectations, no hard feelings, it's just business, but maybe this assignment isn't for them. And thus, I rewarded those deputies who were proactive and out there taking care of serving our contract, in this case the MTA's contract. And those deputies who didn't feel like maybe putting forth that effort were encouraged to seek other assignments, and they did. They may not have been happy with me, but I think they realized that I was fair and open to them (with) what I expected.
Overall, (when) I left my last assignment, I really had a feeling that I made a difference in the lives of my deputies, and feeling that they were productive and proactive. They were recognized for it and very much appreciated.
Signal: Recognizing that you just walked in the door, how do you think the camaraderie among the folks at the SCV Station compares to some of the other places you've been?
La Berge: What's interesting is, in my 22 years, I've had the privilege of working so many different assignments and coming in contact with so many different personnel on this department. So naturally, when my name was in the running for the station, the rumors were out there that I may be coming. I (heard from) several individuals that I've worked with before at various ranks deputies, sergeants, so forth and I was getting the e-mails, "Hey, we're hearing your name here. We hope it's true." I've always had decent relationships with most people I've come in contact with, so I was getting a lot of positive stuff (like), "We're looking forward, hoping you get here."
Since I've arrived, I've seen a lot of familiar faces that I worked with both back in the jails some 20 -odd years ago, out at patrol at Lennox Station, people who are now sergeants, some deputy sheriffs, some people who were in my academy class at Santa Clarita.
So far, it has been very positive. I haven't had much opportunity yet; I've tried to hit as many watch briefings as possible. I'm also attending most of the city and valley town council meetings and other meetings, and meeting a lot of people. Hopefully over the next few months here, I'll be able to get a true feel of the station. So far, though, everything has been very positive. Everybody has been stopping in, saying hello and introducing themselves, and I've been out there trying to reach out to them, also. So far it has been positive.
Signal: Whether internally or externally, what's your Priority No. 1 as the new head of our municipal police department?
La Berge: Obviously, as law enforcement; we're dealing with crime issues. That's our No. 1 job, and the safety of the community.
Signal: Even if we are Santa Clarita.
La Berge: Even if we are Santa Clarita. Having the fourth-safest city ranking is something to be proud of and something that I don't want to see fall under my watch.
Obviously we're dealing with a tremendous amount of population growth out here, and that brings people and sometimes additional problems to the community. My goal is to make sure that we can continue to grow and be prosperous here, but hopefully keep the crime issues that will come in with any large group of society ... under control. That's going to be my No. 1 focus: trying to reduce crime.
Signal: You've lived here 19 years; how do you see the valley changing in terms of crime?
La Berge: I haven't had a chance to really look deep down into the numbers. I've reviewed some of the 2005 numbers; I saw that they had an actual decrease in violent crime back in 2005, but yet they had an increase in property crimes. I want to look at our 2006 numbers once they're compiled. We're in the second week of January here, so those numbers will be coming across my desk very shortly, and I want to dissect them and see what the crime trends tell you.
I'll look to see: Are there certain areas that have higher crime trends than others? And if so, how can we focus on those, identify what they are, and how can I focus on addressing them?
Signal: A few years ago, we had a number of teenage traffic deaths here, particularly as a result of people speeding on Soledad Canyon Road. It became a major focus of attention. There seem to have been fewer in the last couple of years. Is there something that is a real priority focus right now?
La Berge: It's funny you mention that. The traffic sergeant, Sgt. Richard Cohen, is a gentleman I've worked with back in my days at Lennox; we worked at Tactics together, and now he's running the traffic office, and as a matter of fact, was recently quoted in the newspaper regarding some of the traffic issues that they've been addressing.
It's a large city. A lot of issues, a lot of streets. I drive these streets. I see people driving like crazy. I'm in an unmarked car so they don't see the black-and-white, so they drive the way they're used to driving. Obviously when people see that black-and-white, everybody's signaling, everybody's slowing down, driving the speed limit. So I get the occasion to see some of our worst drivers at their best, basically.
But the traffic office is definitely focusing on a myriad of issues the speeding, the reckless driving, also dealing with the drunk-driving efforts. I know there's a traffic program that we have that is working on various operations the DUI checkpoints, dealing with unlicensed drivers.
So there is a focus on traffic in this valley, and like I said, it's such a large valley with additional traffic coming in. Everybody knows they make that long commute. A lot of people work down in southern parts of L.A. County and they're all trying to get out quickly and faster and faster, and you see a lot of our worst driving in the mornings and the evening commutes. We're trying to focus on that. We'll identify the problem areas where we have the most traffic collisions and try to focus our efforts there. The office is pretty aggressive.
Signal: One thing we've been hearing from City Hall over the past year is graffiti. Where there's graffiti, does that mean there's a gang?
La Berge: In the MTA, when I was working in the Transit Services Bureau, obviously the transit systems are popular targets for graffiti vandals, and during some of our investigations there, sometimes you look at a particular tagger and you're thinking: All right, is this a tagger or is this an actual, hard-core gangster?
Sometimes they're on the fringe. Sometimes they're on their way to becoming what we consider hard-core gangsters, as opposed to just a teen who just finds his thrills out of marking up other people's property. Because occasionally, we will serve search warrants at some of these tagger locations, and you'll come across guns, weapons, dope, narcotics, and you realize that some of these people aren't as innocent as the 13-year-old who just wants to write his name somewhere and get some notoriety out of it.
So it's kind of a cross-section. Some of the graffiti that you'll see is specific toward identifying a specific gang, and then others are just vandals who just want to have their street name marking up a particular neighborhood, or what they claim as their territory.
Signal: OK, we've established that Santa Clarita is the fourth-safest city in the nation; does that mean we have no drugs here? How does our illicit drug use compare to other places you've been?
La Berge: I haven't been able to get into specifics on what our drug activity is here, but as we know, throughout U.S. society, drugs are everywhere. They touch every community. They touch your wealthiest communities as well as your most impoverished communities. I know there is narcotic activity out here.
Methamphetamine use has skyrocketed throughout the nation right now. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, we saw the increase in rock cocaine and as a matter of fact, that was one of our most violent time periods in our county history, and probably in the nation's history, during the rock cocaine epidemic. Now we're seeing methamphetamine is starting to really spiral out of control, becoming very active with drug labs that spring up in motels and apartments and stuff like that. So obviously, there will be that type of activity out here.
I know there's a narcotics unit at our station here. I met the sergeant the other day and some of his detectives. He gave me a real really brief, 15-minute overview on some of the things he's doing, and I look forward to sitting down with him and going over ... our most problematic areas and how we're addressing those.
Signal: Have the schools been coming to you and saying, "Here is what we need from the sheriff's station?"
La Berge: I'm sure they have been; I haven't met with them specifically myself. I know I have several meetings scheduled over the next several weeks, one (Tuesday) with a school superintendent of a local district and then on Friday, additional meetings with superintendents from most of the districts at the district headquarters. I expect that I'll be hearing what their concerns are, and seeing how we've been addressing them, and figuring out how we can better address them in the future.
Signal: We had some race-related riots at a couple of the local schools here in the recent past. Do you have ideas about handling those types of incidents differently from the way they've been handled in the past?
La Berge: Back when I was a kid in high school, we had those type of things going on. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and I can remember those what we called "race riots" where, sometimes it's not necessarily based on their races; we had some kids pairing up with people who looked like themselves, and just saying: Here's a neat way to run around and act crazy when they actually had a few students actually fighting, but you have mobs of students running around and it looks much worse than it is.
Not to minimize this at all, though. We've been seeing this going on, probably every school year, in different parts of the county. When I worked Lennox, we had certain schools down there that were notorious for always having these incidents go off during certain times of the year.
Just this last year, we saw a lot of the immigration marches that were going on throughout the county, and then that spilled over into the schools. The students start to mimic the activity that they see going on, and sometimes it's just an excuse to get out of school for some kids, (while for) others, they were marching for the cause, yet they were getting rid of their educational opportunity.
I'll look to see what's going on here and it's not necessarily always just a law enforcement problem. It would be something to where I'll have to join together with the schools and with other organizations or agencies within the city to figure out how we can best address this before it becomes a law enforcement issue or a crime of violence or criminal problem that we have to deal with.
Signal: One thing that came up during those school-related incidents and at other times throughout the past year was access to information. Sometimes our Signal reporters have had trouble getting access to crime scenes and information. Do you have a policy regarding the public's right to know?
La Berge: I agree the public does have a right to know what's going on in their city. When you talk about a crime scene, it depends; if we have an actual crime scene that's taped off, nobody has a right other than the law enforcement and the investigators have a right to go in. We have to protect the integrity of a crime scene. Does that mean that you can't get a picture from outside the tape or get a statement from us as to what occurred? Absolutely. We'd love to be open. I believe in being open and transparent as best as we can so that we don't compromise any investigation.
I will have to look and see how things I've heard different stories about how the relationship has been. I think the relationship with the media can be very positive for law enforcement.
We know there are going to be negative stories. Our job is usually dealing with negative instances, negative events in people's lives, and there will be times we're dealing with society, we're dealing with our own personnel and heated emotions, most of the time ,in our line of work. Yes, there will be negative stories. But we have so many positive stories that unfortunately don't get out there because we tend to focus on just the negative.
My goal is to make sure that with those negative events that are out there, that we definitely share, through a good relationship with the media, the positive stuff that we're doing, also.
Signal: Another thing that has come up lately is the disparity in the law enforcement staffing between the city and the unincorporated county. Apparently some more money has been allocated recently for coverage in the unincorporated county. How are you planning to balance those kinds of issues?
La Berge: That's one thing that our department is looking at as a whole. I used to work with a lieutenant at the MTA who now has a special assignment working as a liaison with the county officials, the Board of Supervisors, and they're looking at our staffing issues and how to better balance that.
We've been going through an incredible recruitment phase and hiring phase over the past year; now we're starting to reap the benefits of that. It took a while to ramp it up and get things working and running, and now we're starting to see these academy classes graduating large numbers of the new deputy sheriffs.
As you see that, then you start getting the deputies coming out of custody faster, and they're coming out to our stations now, and they're on training at various stations. Our training officers at most of the stations throughout the county are filled up, are fully staffed, and as we get those bodies coming out now, we can start filling all those vacant cars, in both county and city areas.
So, we're going to start seeing a definite increase over the next year or two that is definitely going to impact everybody the citizens, me as a captain, the flexibility I have, the morale of my deputies, those who have been tired of working overtime.
There is nothing worse than putting in your full shift and thinking about the things you're going to be doing when you get home, and suddenly, as you're coming into the station thinking you're going home, you're being told, "Sorry. You can't go."
Signal: Evidently that has been happening frequently.
La Berge: Everywhere, throughout the county. And now (with the additional deputies) that workload will start being spread out across more personnel. Overall we'll see, I think, better morale and more productivity. Deputies won't be as tired; they'll be more active.
It's nice to be able to work really hard throughout your shift, knowing that you don't have to pace yourself because you may have to put in a double shift.
Signal: Tell us about your name, Jacques Anthony La Berge. Where does that come from?
La Berge: Well, Dad's from Montreal, Canada, and his name was Joseph Jacques La Berge, and I was Jacques Anthony. I use Anthony because it was a little bit easier growing up as a kid.
Signal: During your law enforcement career, have you felt any discrimination as a French-Canadian?
La Berge: Absolutely not. I've been very fortunate in that respect.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.