By STEVEN BARRIE
Tucked away in the back of what is described as the largest am/pm minimart in the United States is perhaps the smallest sheriff's office in all of Riverside County.
It's a nondescript little room that could be mistaken for a storage closet if it wasn't for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department emblem stuck on the two-way mirror.
Within, an L-shaped table is set tightly against a back and side wall. The table is empty except for a computer printer in the corner, a USB cord connected to it, seemingly unused. There are two chairs. Access to the room is only by security keypad on the door.
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Ali Mazarei owns the 11,000-square-foot am/pm convenience store and everything else at the 11.7-acre Arco Travel Zone. He included the room at his own expense for the use of law enforcement officers who need a place to get out of the elements and write reports, he said.
When Mazarei applied in 1997 to build the travel center on the Cajalco Expressway just west of Interstate 215 in Mead Valley, he found a great deal of resistance, mostly because residents and law enforcement officials thought another convenience store would attract more crime.
Mazarei came up with a unique fix -- provide the Sheriff's Department with a substation in the convenience store.
Eleven years after he proposed his travel center, Mazarei opened shop in February 2008, but by that time, he said, everyone he'd worked with at the Sheriff's Department had either retired or moved on to new jobs. No one at the sheriff's Perris station knew anything about the facility he provided them.
"'What office?' they asked me," he said during a telephone interview.
He spoke with the current station officials, and they welcomed the idea of an office where deputies could go to write reports and still stay in the field.
"This place has a two-fold importance," said sheriff's Sgt. Tim Elwell, who's in charge of special enforcement teams at the Perris Station.
"It has a value to the deputy on the street and for the community. ... It keeps the deputy in the community so that he is available to the citizens," Elwell said.
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Frank Bellino / Special to The Press-Enterprise
This am/pm Arco Travel Zone Center off of the Cajalco Expressway houses a satellite office for Riverside County sheriff deputies based in the Perris station.
While the room does not qualify as a substation, "it still kind of works that way," Elwell said.
"If there's a black-and-white (patrol car) parked out there, people know they can come knock on the door to get things done, everything from signing off a fix-it ticket to taking a criminal report."
At any one time, as few as two and as many as eight deputies patrol the 100-square-mile area around the am/pm. One of them is Deputy Steve Trotta.
"I find myself stopping here three or four times a day," Trotta said, noting that it gives him a chance to write his reports in "a little peace and quiet" and it's more convenient than driving another seven to eight miles into Perris, taking him another 10 minutes away from his patrol area.
Elwell gives Mazarei high marks for his proposal and follow-through.
"He's a man of great vision," Elwell said. "He understands the need for law enforcement to be in the community."
"It was an idea I had a long time ago," Mazarei said of his decision to include it in the convenience store's design.
The store is just one of the site's features, which include 20 Arco gasoline pumps, a Castrol Express Lube, a carwash, a truck stop featuring scales and diesel pumps, and a helipad -- which serves his company helicopter and could be used by law enforcement and fire helicopters if needed, he said.
Elwell said that despite the room's drab décor, "it's just nice having it here. It's a luxury that other deputies in other areas don't have."
Reach Steven Barrie at 951-368-9466 or sbarrie@PE.com
more information please contact: Ali
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