Mayor Hopes to Hold Line On LAPD Presence

At a town hall meeting on public safety, Villaraigosa said he supports closer work between GRYD and LAUSD.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

While Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Police Department may have their critics, you would have been hard pressed to find them among the people who attended the mayor’s East Area Public Safety Town Hall meeting on Jan. 27. 

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (far center) listens to a comment from Aída Cerda of the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

 

 

During the hour-long meeting held at Goodwill Industries in Lincoln Heights, the only seemingly angry words came from someone who said more money is needed to pay for police overtime, to which the mayor responded, “You’re singing my song.” 

Villaraigosa said the drop in crime across Los Angeles is due in great part to an increase in the number of police officers in LAPD—an issue he has ardently pushed since taking office and that has been funded in part by increased trash fees.

Villaraigosa said he does not have the city councils’ support to continue hiring more LAPD officers, but wants to at least hold the line at 9,963 officers in the department. 

EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

 

When Villaraigosa took office, the LAPD had 9,100 patrol officers and the city was the most under policed big city in the nation, according to his office. Since taking office, violent crime has dropped significantly. 2010 had the lowest crime rate per capita since 1952—a year before he was born, Villaraigosa said. 

“It took us five years to get 800 [more] officers, in one year we’ll loose 300 if we stop hiring. Once we loose 300 it will take three years to get them back,” Villaraigosa said responding to a question from Monica Harmon, a longtime volunteer at the Hollenbeck Police Station. Harmon asked the mayor if it would not make more sense to pay officers overtime, rather than assigning them to desk duty because of the department’s civilian hiring freeze? 

The mayor said he is continuing to negotiate the issue of “cash overtime” with the police union, but for now, he hopes to at least keep pace with attrition in the department, if not increase the number of officers on patrol.

The mayor said former Police Chief William Bratton and current Chief Charlie Beck’s community policing strategy — through groups such as Neighborhood Watch and Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs), as well as his own Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program— has engaged the community in efforts to reduce crime.

He said that reducing crime, however, is not just about putting more cops on the street, but other strategies as well.

 “We’re not just putting resources in cops, we’re putting resources in… opening our parks, on providing a safety net of services for kids who are at risk for getting in gangs, and kids who are in gangs and want to get out,” he said. “We’re safer today because we’ve made public safety our priority.” 

Councilmember Ed P. Reyes (CD-1) praised the attendees for contributing to the drop in crime statistics, but added that more people need to get active in their communities if crime is to stay down. 

“It makes a difference when we have people who grew up in these communities, who are stakeholders in every sense of the word, galvanize and focus on asking the questions: What is best for our kids? What is best for our family? And actually act upon it,” Reyes said. “I see many of you out there in your struggles, I’ve seen you work with the youth, the parents, I see you engage the school district, I see you making the difference that it takes to reach these types of statistics.” 

A Montecito Heights resident asked the mayor why the Northeast LAPD Station’s gang detective unit was being “dismantled.” Villaraigosa responded that the unit is not being disbanded by choice, but that a number of detectives have decided to leave the unit rather than comply with a controversial department policy that requires officers in those units to disclose their finances. The intent of the policy is to deter corruption among officers who routinely handle large amounts of confiscated cash and drugs, according to LAPD.

 “I think you’re going to see, I’m not going to give a number because we don’t want the bad guys to know, but I can tell you this, the vast majority of officers are going to re-sign up even with the financial disclosure… those who don’t, we’ll replace them,” Villaraigosa said.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that LAPD officials had confirmed that all but one of about 80 gang unit officers assigned to the “department’s Southeast, 77th, Northeast and Hollenbeck divisions—areas that are home to some of the city’s most violent and active gangs — refused” to comply with the policy. 

Some in the audience called for more gang intervention programs as a way to keep crime down. In particular they noted a need to work closely with the Los Angeles Unified School District to deliver services, and questioned why that is not happening now. 

Joe Carmona, youth advocate and former Los Angeles Unified School District educator, wanted to know why it is so difficult to get some of the gang prevention/intervention programs—like his Peace Warrior youth group—into local schools like Luther Burbank? 

In response, Villaraigosa said he hopes to raise more money for effective gang intervention programs, like his GYRD program in the future. 

Guillermo Cespedes, GRYD Program Director, clarified that Carmona was not asking for more resources per se, but a Memoranda of Understanding between LAUSD and gang interventionists to work together at school sites.

Echoing Cespedes and Carmona, Aida Cerda, director of Youth Violence and Gang Prevention at the Division of Adolescent Medicine for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles said it took them a year and a half to get a service application for school-site counseling for the at-risk children they serve. 

Villaraigosa said he would work on getting the LAUSD and the city’s gang intervention programs working more closely together. 

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February 3, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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