Sunday, January 22, 2006

 

More Officers, Please

The LAPD has been on a hiring and recruiting binge for over a year now. I believe this was needed, as the vast majority of LAPD areas experienced a rise in crime due to the lack of officers available to patrol and investigate high-crime areas. Well, it looks like the extra feet on the street are starting to pay off.

In the toughest part of Los Angeles, that stretch of neighborhoods that fan out from the southern border of the USC campus, more homicides are committed than in any other area of the city. Gangs still roam the streets. And yet there is reason for hope, a sense that things have gotten better.

Swaths of South Los Angeles communities are posting improving crime statistics. In the southwest area of Los Angeles, for instance, police say homicides are down by 21% from 2004 and aggravated assaults have been reduced by almost half, from 2,208 in 2004 to 1,277 as 2005 came to an end. Even shootings are down, by 31%.

And it is not just there.

Take Pacoima, nestled at the base of the mountains in the northern reaches of the city. This once was serious gang country. Its streets remain grimy and most of the buildings could use fresh paint. But here in this working-class suburb, life is looking up, if only by degrees.

"It's not Beverly Hills, but it's a lot nicer," said Edwin Ramirez, the president of Pacoima's neighborhood council.

<...>

Although the area has never looked so good, or had so much art and music or so many restaurants and clothing stores, patrons vanish by nightfall. Then the soaring sounds of a saxophone and floating aroma of coffee waft over lonely sidewalks.

Twins Richard and Ron Harris, who opened the popular Lucy Florence Coffee House in 2000, say they measure success by foot traffic, not statistics.

"I don't believe crime is down in this area because there are not enough people walking," Richard Harris said.

While praising the individual officers who work the neighborhood, merchants said the overall relationship with police still needs improvement if crime is to drop in a way that creates a broader sense of security.

"It is our hope that people begin to work more closely with the police, cooperating more with them because there is crime here," Ron Harris said. "I think the community needs to stop looking at LAPD as the enemy."

And the police, he said, need to create the impression they are patrolling to prevent crime, not seeking it out.

Up the street at Gallery Plus, Laura Hendrix, outgoing president of the Leimert Park Merchants' Assn., said she was recently robbed by a customer who gave her a $100 bill, then grabbed both the bill and the change and fled. She used the incident to underline her positive experience with LAPD and pulled a sheaf of business cards with the names and cellphone numbers of police officers from her wallet.

"They were excellent in responding, and I think the relationship with the police is better now than it has been in the past," Hendrix said. What happened to her, however, illustrates the petty crimes that require constant vigilance.

"It's not people breaking in and taking things; it's that you have to always be cautious. You can't slip," Hendrix said.

At the nearby Gwen Bolden Youth Foundation, founder Bolden said a recent breakthrough came when parents of the 150 youths who receive tutoring and other services at the center spent an evening meeting with police.

"The parents could actually see some of the officers and know their names instead of saying 'Who is that cop?' Now it's 'Oh, that's Officer Morales.'

I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's a start. All of us here at The Horseback Riders hate tax hikes, and I that common sense tells us that if we can cut spending in one area to equal the proposed half-cent tax hike to hire more officers, then we should be looking at a winning situation. If the mayor can fix all the potholes for $20 bucks a pop, then finding money for officers should be the last thing we're worried about. The Chief accredited it to better plans of action, but the fact of the matter is that there's more feet on the street. The City of Los Angeles is growing, and it's hard to deny the fact that the police department has to grown to keep up with the needs of the city.

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