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Dispatch: 'I've always wanted to do it'

August 14, 2009 |  3:17 pm

Case files fill the shelves at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's homicide bureau in Commerce. Credit: Sarah Ardalani/Los Angeles TimesThe Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide bureau is tucked into small, nondescript office park in Commerce, about eight miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Inside, there are no high-tech displays for case details, no state-of-the-art crime solving equipment. There are no interrogation rooms. The detectives do not even have their own cubicles; desks are littered with paperwork.

Sgt. Barry Hall has been assigned to the bureau for eight years.

Sgt. Barry Hall, left, and Sgt. Rick Biddle, right, work homicides for the L.A. County Sheriff's department.  “I’ve always wanted to do it,” said the Texas native, who calls working closely with a partner one of the best parts of the job.

As of Aug. 5, the bureau had handled 144 homicides of the roughly 460 throughout the county. Year-to-date homicides are down about 36% from 2005 and nearly 11% from last year, according to department statistics.

The busiest, and bloodiest, days often come over the weekend or on holidays. Most often, Hall said, the call comes late at night or in the early morning.

The 90 homicide detectives work in two-person teams. They call the large, brown files they keep for each case “poor boys,” a name that has been around so long, no one could recall its origin.

Each set of partners is assigned to one of six larger teams that share shift rotations. Between half a dozen and a dozen detectives are on a team at any given time, all headed by a lieutenant.

At each homicide scene, Hall said, the first officers to arrive “hold the scene and tape it off.” When the homicide bureau is notified of a new case, detectives look to a large board at the front desk to see who will catch it.

Norma Ogurek, who tracks statistics for the bureau, said roughly 50% to 60% of their cases are solved.

Ogurek said about half the homicides handled by the bureau are classified as gang-related, meaning that authorities believe that the suspect, the victim or both are affiliated with a gang. The closure rate for gang-related homicides is about 30%, Ogurek said.

Such cases are often harder to close for a variety of factors, Hall said. Gang-related homicides tend to happen in the middle of the night with few witnesses. Hall said that even when there are witnesses, it can be difficult to get them to talk.

-- Anthony Pesce and Sarah Ardalani reporting from Commerce

Photos: Case files fill the shelves at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide bureau in Commerce. And Sgt. Barry Hall, left, and his partner, Sgt. Rick Biddle, work at the homicide bureau.

Credit: Sarah Ardalani / Los Angeles Times

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