Although there isn’t really a Malibu police deptartment, there is a unit of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. assigned to the Malibu beat, a team with many responsibilities — a team that some call the Malibu P.D.
Sheriff’s Detective Joseph Jakl is one deputy assigned to this beat.
Jakl, who pronounces his name “Jay-kull,” a native of the San Gabriel Valley community of Eagle rock, has been wearing a sheriff’s star for 12 years, 10 of them while working in the Malibu area. He has worn a detective badge since 1995.
Jakl explained, since Malibu has no police department of its own, the city has contracted with the county for law enforcement.
Up to 140 sworn personnel are used to cover an area of more than 200 square miles, including Malibu, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Agoura, Westlake Village and the unincorporated parts of Chatsworth, Topanga and Malibu Lake.
Most are uniformed personnel with a handful being plainclothes detectives like Jakl.
Capt. John O’Brien, head of the Malibu-Lost Hills station, said there are 11 detectives, including two sergeants and a lieutenant, with four of them assigned to the Juvenile Intervention Team.
Why do they need detectives at all?
“The uniformed officers gather information at the scene of an accident or a crime,” explains Jakl. “But sometimes we need to get follow-up information on something like a hit-and-run, say, for example, going out to examine a suspect’s car,” he said.
“It’s less obtrusive to show up in civilian clothes. Especially if the person is innocent.”
Not to mention plainclothes and cars with plain brown wrappers make it easier to sneak up on the bad guys.
“We do have a surveillance unit as well,” said Jakl. “They drive cars confiscated from drug dealers.”
Undercover aside, the number one job of sheriff’s deputies in Malibu is controlling traffic.
“Speed on Pacific Coast Highway is our biggest problem,” said Jakl. He provided a chart showing that the number of fatalities on PCH has dropped since 1991, when the Sheriff’s Dept. took over patrolling duties on PCH from the California Highway Patrol. “But we could get them down still further if people slowed down.”
Jakl is wistful about changes that could be done to improve the safety of PCH.
“Pedestrian walkways, prevention of roadside parking–we have made many suggestions to Caltrans,” he said.
The California Coastal Commission also has its say in whether any suggestions will be adopted.
“We really complained when the center medians were taken out along PCH,” recalls Jakl. “It gave people crossing PCH a refuge when they were halfway across [therefore, making it easier to cross].”
One way the Sheriff’s Dept. evaluates its effectiveness is statistics. While the national average is 25 citations issued to each traffic injury, among the Malibu department it is 137 citations to one injury.
Jakl points out that the number of injuries drops markedly as the number of citations climb.
Another task for the Sheriff’s Dept. is creating a secure climate for homeowners, some of whom are celebrities. It is not uncommon for a resident to ask for extra patrol.
“When someone is leaving town, they might ask us to swin by more frequently to make sure no one has broken in,” said Jakl. “And certainly, if they have a reason to think somebody is targeting them, we will patrol there.”
Many celebrities, he adds, hire their own security firms, some of which have employees who may be armed. This is legal if those employees have a state license to carry a gun.
There are special occasions, he points out, such as the recent Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston nuptials, where the Sheriff’s Dept. provides special security, but in that particular case it was both a public duty and a separate fee arrangement.
“We knew that spectators would be a problem since the wedding was taking place on a property adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway, so we blocked off one lane,” said Jakl.
That portion was at the public expense.
“Anybody planning an event that could affect traffic can apply for a special detail,” said Jakl.
But, for the Pitt-Aniston wedding, some off-duty deputies were hired to provide security in addition to the private security firms already retained by the wedding planners. The City of Malibu was paid a fee for this service, which in turn went to the Sheriff’s Dept.
The fee for each deputy for such a detail is roughly $52 an hour.
When talking VIP’s, movie stars are a three a penny. But there is only one President of the United States. When he decides to come to town to pal around with his Malibu friends, as President Clinton did during the Democratic National Convention, the Sheriff’s Dept. is alerted. “Fortunately, the secret service brings plenty of their own security service personnel,” said Jakl. “There’s not much more we can add.”
On a previous occasion when the President was visiting, deputies took the precaution of parking a bus in front of the home he was at to minimize the damage that could be caused by bomb-laden cars and posted “no parking” signs, but, so far, Jakl says that presidential visits haven’t cost the county much more than normal.
‘Safe’ beach community?’
A problem larger than the small population of Malibu warrants is car theft.
“If it’s hot inland, we can get up to 500,000 people at the beaches,” said Jakl. “People should be aware and take precautions.”
For some reason, he said, beachgoers don’t think of security as they would if parked downtown.
Elementary precautions he recommends are locking your car, rolling up the windows, and hiding things of value. Theft from cars is also a big problem with beach visitors, as many inlanders tend to park their cars with valuables showing, mistakenly feeling that precautions aren’t necessary because they are in a ‘safe’ beach community.
One thing the department hasn’t had a need for is a bomb squad.
“Almost every time we get a report of a bomb, we find it is a leftover movie prop,” said Jakl.
Burglaries on the web
After the problem of fatalities on PCH, and traffic accidents in the canyons, the next most serious problem is home site burglaries.
“Not so much home burglaries because of all the alarms,” said Jakl. “But we do have theft of construction materials. I guess some people think it’s easier to shop at an unguarded construction site than go to a Home Depot.”
A new boon to security that has yet to make its effect felt, but which will greatly simplify their task, is the Web cam.
“The technology exists to have a video camera or a number of video cameras trained on your house and to dial up those cameras from anywhere in the world on the Web and see if any intruders are in or about your house,” said Jakl. “I expect in the future we’ll get more calls from our residents who are out of town who detect an intruder through this means.”
Drinking and swimming do not mix
A problem particular to summer is drinking at the beach, which is handled by the Beach Patrol segment of the department.
“People wonder why we have jurisdiction over what’s in their cold drink container,” said Jakl. “Well, it’s against the law to drink alcohol in public and the beach is considered public property. Not to mention that you still have to drive home after a day of drinking at the beach. And when you think about a drunk swimmer, well that’s something the lifeguards don’t want to see.”
Jakl acknowledges the feeling some people have that a “local” police force is preferable to a contract one.
While it is true that more than 40 cities contract with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. for services, he points out: “We are ‘local’ in the sense that we have the same 18-20 officers working in Malibu all the time, some of them for many years. So, although it’s not called ‘Malibu P.D.’ it’s what we are.”