CityWatch, June 28, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 51
RETHINKING LA - Modern police work is a scientific business, driven by statistical analysis of criminal behavior, resulting in a focused high-tech law enforcement response that delivers efficient crime prevention, suppression, and prosecution.
Or so we are led to believe.
There was a time when police officers walked the beat, talked to residents, chatted with business operators, greeted passers-by, and established community relationships on the street.
Times have changed. People walk less, they drive more, and law enforcement has gotten too big for its boots, literally.
In East Hollywood, a densely populated, low-income and high-crime neighborhood with over a hundred languages spoken, residents are taking to the streets and they’re inviting the Los Angeles Police Department to join them for a walk, a casual stroll through the community.
There was a time when “walking the beat” was a common community policing strategy but decades ago the patrol car replaced the personal approach and now most community policing arrives in an SUV, parks in the red, and takes place at community meetings, not on the street.
The most recent enforcement activity in East Hollywood has focused on the residents, not the criminals, as Building and Safety has engaged in a seven-fold increase in over-height fence investigations.
At Hollywood residents have received non-compliance letters, fines, penalties and orders to remove the front yard fences that exceed 42” in height. They argue that the fences are a response to criminal activity and a last-ditch effort to protect their property and their families.
The LAPD has experimented with a return to community policing on foot, most recently in the Skid Row area where Central Division made weekly “Walks with the Captain,” a tradition that resulted in increased connectivity and visibility, regarded as an important step toward the suppression of crime.
St. Louis actually did the numbers and found that the “Cops on Foot” strategy resulted in a 17% reduction in crime, a statistic that is almost as impressive as the fact that they also tracked interactions with residents, business operators, and passers-by.
Perhaps the weekly LAPD Comstat meetings should shift from a Division by Division analysis of criminal activity and start evaluating human contact, relationships developed and neighborhood discoveries that come from slowing down and chatting.
I know it’s a stretch to expect the LAPD to walk every street and alley in LA, after all there’s 6500 miles of streets and the broken sidewalks can be very dangerous. But the people who know what’s going on don’t always want to work their way through a phone directory, leave messages and call back. They simply want to talk and a casual walk in a densely populated neighborhood will result in face to face conversations that start slowly, eventually resulting in a flow of information.
In East Hollywood, there are elements that can’t be seen from a patrol car that’s rushing in traffic, but stand on the sidewalk for a while and people start to appear from under the trees and bushes on the Caltrans property along the 101 freeway. Stand at a bus stop in the blazing sun and it becomes evident why people don’t feel safe.
New York’s Albany applied the “Cops on Foot” strategy to its high-crime areas in successful effort “to build trust” and the community has responded by partnering with the department and offering information on criminal activity.
In the UK, the beat policing strategy is recognized as having an impact that is tough to measure statistically, but that is credited with reducing fear and insulating behavior that creates isolation in densely populated communities.
While the statisticians and criminal scientists debate the merits of foot patrols, the residents of East Hollywood are rebounding from the latest assault on their community by going for a walk, up Normandie Ave and through the neighborhood, one street at a time, one step at a time.
East Hollywood Street Beat, Thursday evenings throughout the summer, 800 N. Normandie, from 7 pm to 9 pm. Join LAPD’s Rampart and Northeast divisions, meet the Captains who are responsible for public safety, and make new friends on the streets of East Hollywood.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)