Oversight Commission hears praise for captain, need for mental health resources

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Capt. Robert Lewis answers questions at a Civilian Oversight Committee town hall in Newhall Thursday night. Austin Dave/The Signal

Michael De Lorenzo wouldn’t live anywhere else other than the Santa Clarita Valley, based solely on the effectiveness of the SCV Sheriff’s Station.

That’s what he told officials with the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission at a local town hall meeting they called to discuss the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Members of the county watchdog group wanted to hear about public safety concerns and the experiences SCV residents have had with the Sheriff’s Department, and that’s what they heard.

Many of the more than 50 people who attended the meeting at William S. Hart Park heaped praise on Capt. Robert Lewis, his specialty teams and deputies.

“I can’t say enough about this sheriff’s station,” said De Lorenzo, president of Santa Clarita Studios.

“We had a burglary,” he said. “The bad guys stole our lights.

“I filed a report. The deputies came to the studio at 5:30 p.m. At 8 p.m., they called me to say they watched the video camera footage and identified a fellow. They picked him up.

“They told me, ‘We got the guy. He has lights, but not your lights,’” De Lorenzo said. “Then they called me later to say, ‘We have five of your six lights,’ and a written confession.

“They had the case solved and fixed in two and a half hours. That’s amazing,” he said.

“I’d rather live here than anywhere else in the world,” he told Lewis and the panel. “Thank you and please be safe.”

Mental health issues

Despite some concerns voiced about response times, adequate staffing, speeding motorists and noisy ones, the residents of SCV seized their chance at the town hall to thank the ones who serve and protect them.

If there was an overriding concern voiced at the meeting that commissioners could take back to Los Angeles and review, it was the call for more resources allocated for mental health needs in the SCV.

Case in point: Cape Cod Drive in Valencia.

“Our neighborhood is going through a lot, responding to a series of psychological episodes from one individual,” a woman told the panel.

“The individual is now assaulting neighbors, pounding on cars, confronting the mailman,” she said, to which Lewis told her: “We’re very aware.”

The woman told Lewis she understood how deputies were “limited” as to what they could do to address the situation, but, she added:  “We need some sort of crisis intervention.”

Lewis told her: “We are very familiar with the individual. We have two mental evaluation teams in the neighborhood. And, we are trying to figure out the best avenue we can take.”

On Friday, the day after the problem was shared at the town hall meeting, Lewis followed up on the Cape Cod situation.

Neighborhood under siege

“This woman who spoke at the meeting described a neighborhood under siege,” he said Friday.

“This afternoon, we contacted the individual. It resulted in a brief barricaded situation and the (Los Angeles County) Fire Department was notified.

“We safely took him into custody,” Lewis said, noting the individual is now expected to undergo a mental health assessment.

Commissioners hearing about the case Thursday night wasted no time pointing out the need for more mental health workers.

“We have been advocating for more and more MET (mental evaluation) teams for dealing with people in crisis,”  said Brian K. Williams, executive director of the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission.

Addressing the woman complaining of the ongoing situation on Cape Cod Drive, he said: “When you come here and share this story, it allows us to allocate more resources.”

More resources

On Friday, Lewis said he is following up on the need for and the prospect of assigning more resources earmarked for mental health issues.

“We have two MET teams in Santa Clarita, and we actually need three,” Lewis said, noting “one more team would benefit us the way it did on Cape Cod.”

Various L.A. County departments were on hand Thursday, including:

  • Mental Evaluation Teams (Mental Health & Sheriff)
  • Immigrant Affairs
  • Project Lifesaver/L.A. Found (Sheriff)
  • Mental Health, Consumer & Family Affairs
  • Public Social Services
  • Child Support Services
  • Fire Department
  • Sheriff’s Department

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