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Feuds are on decline

Deputies responding to less calls, but two recent neighborhood conflicts allegedly turn violent

Posted: October 11, 2009 8:27 p.m.
Updated: October 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Complaints to law enforcement about neighborhood feuds over issues like broken sprinklers, barking dogs and disputed parking spots have dropped to half of 2005 levels as the Sheriff’s Department strengthens its community involvement.

But at least two neighborhood conflicts have reportedly escalated to violence in the past several months: Last month an argument over parking spots in Castaic allegedly led to a stabbing; earlier this year a resident of Valencia Bridgeport claimed a neighbor shot him in the arm after a lengthy dispute over pets and property lines.

“We’ve seen from the little, minor things all the way up to serious neighborhood disputes,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Darren Harris.

But the more routine dispute calls have been dropping off steadily, statistics show.

Local deputies responded to 312 reports last year, compared to 539 in 2007, 577 in 2006 and 612 in 2005, according to data provided by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

This year’s data hints of further decline with 266 disturbance reports from Jan. 1 to Oct. 4, compared to 304 during the same period last year, Harris said.

Community interaction

The drop comes as the community is becoming more involved through Neighborhood Watch groups, and deputies are conducting more aggressive community outreach and education, Harris said.

“We’re a lot more interactive with the public,” he said. “There’s (also) an attempt to permanently resolve some of the more serious issues ... to understand the issues rather than putting a Band-Aid on it.”

More than 200 residents across the SCV have signed up to be Neighborhood Watch block captains, according to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Web site.

And the station is conducting more classes to help – including some that show residents how to be good neighbors.

Harris said neighbors are encouraged to communicate and share ideas so they can inform one another about their likes and dislikes, preventing future conflicts.

When deputies start noticing repeated complaints in particular neighborhoods, they send in the city’s Community Interaction Team, which consists of one sergeant and four deputies, Harris said.

“It’s challenging for law enforcement because sometimes we don’t know all the history,” he said, adding that C.I.T. members have a better opportunity to investigate ongoing issues than do regular patrol deputies. “We try to determine what has occurred in the past.”

Heightened disputes

Even as calls about minor disturbances decline, some recent disputes have escalated. In the past six months, at least two neighborhood arguments turned violent.

In one conflict at the end of August, a Castaic man allegedly stabbed his neighbor after a parking dispute turned into a feud that led to both neighbors’ arrests.

Held on suspicion of battery was Sean Riley, 35, on Aug. 28 in a citizen’s arrest case after his neighbor, a 27-year-old man, told deputies Riley spit in his face during an argument about parking, said sheriff’s Lt. Brenda Cambra.

Deputies returned to the neighborhood the next day to arrest the neighbor’s father, David McMahan, 57, who allegedly stabbed and choked Riley, though McMahan said it was in self-defense, Cambra said.

Authorities were left to sort out two different stories about the conflict.

In a May incident, a man told sheriff’s deputies a neighbor shot him in the arm with a .22 caliber rifle. Authorities were still investigating the matter but hadn’t made any arrests.

Despite these two incidents, Harris said it is rare for neighborhood fights to escalate to violence and criminal charges. When they do, it is often because of a lack of civil cooperation between neighbors, he said.

“They can tend to escalate, especially if the neighbors aren’t willing to make concessions with one another,” Harris said. “If you choose to live in an urban environment, you have to be willing to make concessions for your neighbor.”

While Harris suggested residents try to work through problems civilly, he also said they should know when to ask for help.

“We don’t want a neighbor confronting another neighbor if there’s a chance of escalation,” he said, adding that people should call the Sheriff’s Station when situations get too heated. “Law enforcement will act as a mediator.”


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