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L.A. Sheriff's Deputy Hopes Leniency Helps Change Police Image

Sarah Sax |
December 3, 2011 | 7:44 p.m. PST


A random sheriff's stop. (Creative Commons)
A random sheriff's stop. (Creative Commons)

Staccato beeps sounded in the police car immediately after I sat down in the passenger seat.

The time read 3:25 p.m. when we peered over the sun-kissed screen to read the brief call description.

“What do you predict we’ll encounter once we get to the scene?” I asked Lomita-based L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Alan Cromer as we sped away. 

“From what I can tell,” he paused. “I think it’s a dead body.”

Dead. Body.  Those two words resonated with me for a few seconds as I mentally prepared myself to see a cadaver from a suicide scene. Deep breath. Ok, I was ready.

The description on the Mobile Digital Terminal, a screen that transmits background information of each call assigned to the sheriff in the car, explained that an odd scent was permeating throughout a building and strange noises were being heard in one residence.

“It’s a P5150,” Cromer warned me.  The suspect could be mentally ill and therefore we had to approach the situation delicately.

Construction blocked roadways that directly led to the address of the scene and the air conditioning in the car was starting to freeze my toes. 

We’re spending too much time aimlessly driving to find the address, I thought. The GPS was missing. 

“Lomita Manor” the building read as I popped out of the car after Cromer, following him into the apartment complex.  Another police car was already parked in front of the building, and I lost hope of seeing anything since we weren’t the first at the scene. 

Turns out an older woman was creating havoc on her apartment floor and residents got so fed up they called the sheriff department.  The stench was the remnants of her chain-smoking habit; the noise was the ruckus reported by the old woman’s neighbors. 

No, I did not meet the woman nor see the interaction between the sheriff and her—Cromer and I roamed around too long finding the apartment complex to see that exchange.

“It’s a good thing we didn’t get there first,” Cromer admitted to me.

Since there was an officer-in-training who arrived first at the scene, Cromer was pleased that the trainee got the experience of handling the situation.  I, on the other hand, was disappointed I didn’t witness anything.

Cromer isn’t a typical sheriff in the traditional Hollywood sense of the word.  Rather than being aggressive and macho, he is understanding and forgiving.  Instead of a husky, direct voice, he speaks in a low, quiet voice. 

“I grew up in a community that didn’t really like policemen,” Cromer said as we drove away from the Lomita Manor.

“After serving in the army for more than 20 years, I wanted to make sure others don’t see the police force as I did,” Cromer said.
And he tries hard to do just that.

As we reached the corner of Walnut and Lomita, Cromer pulled his police car up to the edge of the stop sign and sat there.  He parks just close enough for everyone to see the hood of his car, so drivers will stop and he won’t have to give out a ticket.

We sat in the car from 3:42 p.m. to 4:07 p.m. waiting.  Cars drove by and Cromer pointed out that most people don’t even come to a full stop at a stop sign.

“I don’t give tickets for things I do, too,” Cromer admitted.

Whoa, what?  Isn’t that not enforcing the law? 

“I have tinted windows on my car, so I don’t give tickets for people who have tinted windows because it’s unfair,” he said.  “I don’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign, so I’m lenient with everyone else who does those rolls.”

I couldn’t help but think that’s unethical, despite Cromer’s attempt to be ethical himself.  

If his job is to enforce the law because that will create a safe and structured society, then his leniency appears to be defying his sheriff duties. 

Cromer’s nice-guy persona was emphasized even more after he told me he’s been tased. 

“If I do it to other people, I wanted to see what it felt like,” he said, admitting to volunteering as a guinea pig in his sheriff training class. 

As Cromer and I slowly rolled through a nearby Palos Verdes parking lot searching for suspicious people who may be breaking into cars, he announced how I can get out of a ticket. 

Admitting that I do something wrong, he said, will typically exempt me from a ticket.  Showing that I am aware of the driving rules and just made a mistake may leave me with a warning and no ticket. 

Though Cromer means well, it’s almost as if he is doing more harm than good—letting people get away with unlawful acts.  If more officers use Cromer’s judgment, then the roads would be chaotic.

Despite his leniency, I couldn’t help but smile when Cromer said he gives stickers to young children.

Maybe my perception of the Hollywood sheriff stereotype of a go-getter, ticket-giving officer would be different had I gotten a sticker from Cromer when I was a kid.

Reach Sarah here.

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