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CORONA: New police chief wants changes

16 Mar

Three months after taking over Corona’s police force and two weeks after his job title became official, Corona Police Chief Mike Abel has started specialized teams to prevent crime and monitor internal affairs and intends to purchase the department’s first video cameras for patrol cars.

Abel, 44, of Corona, said his foremost goals are to create community partnerships with other agencies to reduce crime, especially a recent rise in property crimes; improve customer service; train staff; purchase new technology; and scrutinize the department’s performance.

He said his management style encourages feedback from employees.

“I want input. Just because I’m the chief doesn’t mean it’s my way. Two-hundred opinions are better than one,” he said during an interview at his new office Thursday.

Abel was selected March 1 as the city’s top law enforcement official, tasked with leading a department of about 150 sworn officers and 60 non-sworn employees in a city of more than 150,000. He started at the department in 1987 as a cadet before climbing the ranks to captain, a job he held for nearly eight years. In December, former Chief Richard Madory retired, and the city appointed Abel interim chief.

Abel has made some changes, many a result of officer suggestions, including creating the specialized teams.

Budget cuts have eliminated some targeted enforcement teams, so Abel is establishing smaller versions. The teams create opportunities for officers to branch out after years on patrol.

A two-person proactive policing team created a month ago rotates patrol officers into the team monthly. Although available for emergency calls, they focus on preventing crime through probation and parole checks, targeting high-crime areas and thieves before they commit more crimes. This month, the team is working on copper wire thefts.

A new targeted enforcement day for detectives has them forming teams once a month to focus on parole or probation searches.

And a professional standards team was created about two months ago with a detective, sergeant and part-time sergeant who will identify potential personnel problems before they become issues and monitor the internal culture of the department, Abel said. The team also handles standard internal affairs matters.

The department has had a high-profile internal affairs investigation of a high-ranking officer, is facing a related civil lawsuit by a high-ranking officer and, in January, paid $86,000 after a third officer broke the jaw of a motorist during a traffic stop.

Abel said he believes strongly in self-auditing and analyzing how the department is running itself.

Corona may soon rejoin a western Riverside County narcotics task force after about five years, Abel said.

The city’s biggest crime issue is property thefts, Abel said, referring to a monthly analysis. Corona crime trends mimic national statistics that show a slight drop in violent and property crimes, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports for the first six months of 2011. The only category where Corona saw an increase was arson, which rose from six incidents to 13.

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