Not long after the city of Santa Clarita took a moment of silence Tuesday in memory of Ryan Clinkunbroomer, a Santa Clarita Valley resident and Palmdale sheriff’s deputy who was murdered in front of the sheriff’s station there, Councilwoman Laurene Weste said she was “ringing the bell.”
Fed up with what she referred to as the erosion of responsibility and a growing climate of fear due to increasing crime on the streets, in the public transit system and at local businesses, she wants city officials to look at how they can take matters more into their own hands when it comes to holding criminals accountable.
“So, if I told you tomorrow, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a terrible thing happening’ — and I don’t care if it’s a volcano, earthquake, fire — would you just sit and do nothing?” Weste said rhetorically in a phone interview Wednesday discussing her comments. “I guess I’m ringing the bell. We don’t have to immediately do anything, but we have to start researching what we can do.”
The six-term councilwoman’s call comes on the heels of the city of Lancaster’s announcement of a decision to form its own eight-person police department to augment the Sheriff’s Department that it pays for under contract with L.A. County.
The plan in Lancaster is for the city force to augment the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station’s services with an initial eight-officer deployment that’s been estimated to cost about $10 million to get started.
Weste said she was happy with LASD services, but didn’t think that a city hiring officers to increase the presence of law enforcement was a bad idea, calling law enforcement in L.A. County since District Attorney George Gascón took office a “quagmire” in which business owners are leaving the state over frustrations with the lack of law enforcement and employees scared at work due to the increase in thefts and robberies.
The idea she was referring to Tuesday was more about the potential for a city prosecutor, noting that a lack of prosecutions, not arrests, is what concerns her.
“(Business owners) can’t keep their employees safe. They’re leaving the state, they’re leaving the county,” Weste said. “I mean, people are afraid to get on buses.”
What really brought the issue to a head for her was Clinkunbroomer’s murder, which has garnered national attention and, locally, renewed discussion about what can be done to support law enforcement.
Gascón’s office did not respond to a request for comment regarding its prosecution of that case or the use of special enhancements.
Weste said she was happy with the service and support from the SCV Sheriff’s Station, but she also said she hears deputies’ frustrations as well.
A number of policy directives that Gascón announced upon first taking office in December 2020 lessened the penalties for certain repeat offenders and have banned the use of special circumstances except for the rarest circumstances — the prosecution of Kevin Salazar, the man accused of Clinkunbroomer’s murder, might be the first time.
“I don’t think there’s anything I can do better for the constituency than for them to feel secure and safe in their community,” a frustrated Weste said Wednesday, adding that despite the county and state challenges, she still thought Santa Clarita was one of the best cities in the country.
“But we’re subject to what that DA (Gascón) will and won’t prosecute,” she said, “and it’s just demoralizing.”