Northeast Los Angeles residents gathered Tuesday at the Eagle Rock Plaza for the annual National Night Out event where they met their neighbors and engaged in improving the community’s partnership with police in their ongoing efforts to reduce crime.
Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division Captains William Murphy and Brian Pratt were among the speakers; both noted the low levels of crime compared to decades past.
“We’ve seen explosive reductions in crime in the last five years, violent crime especially, a lot of that had to do with the partnerships we have formed,” Capt. Murphy said, praising the the Eagle Rock Plaza and Target for their hosting of the National Night Out event year after year.
Capt. Pratt recalled the Northeast Division once had 30, 40 and 50 homicides a year, “now it’s single digits,” he said.
He also said it was not too long ago that there was something akin to a physical barrier between the police and the community that was an obstacle for communication. The improved relationship between law enforcement and communities has created trust and led to the sharing of information—the result is continued reductions in crime, he said.
Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Eagle Rock, said Los Angeles has the lowest crime rates since the 1950s and the trend in Eagle Rock continues in that direction.
“I think, throughout the city, one of the biggest differences I’ve seen is really a change in attitude. A change in attitude from the residents who feel they can work with their senior lead officers… that attitude has made a big difference in the reason why we have low crime rates and that is what National Night Out is all about: to continue to promote that relationship, to continue to help one another, and to be part of the solution to have safer communities,” he said.
Only about 75 people attended the event that took place in the same vicinity where Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division officers on Aug. 2 arrested a suspected Highland Park gang member believed to be the shot-caller for a Grand Theft Auto fraud ring. The suspect, in his early 30s and a non-violent parolee, was released early from his sentence under the state’s Criminal Justice Realignment – early release law, Officer Gabriel Nily told EGP before the event on Tuesday. Nily said a lot of car thefts are related to these types of parolees, many of whom have been rearrested, he said.
The LAPD Northeast Division polices Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Glassell Park, Cypress Park as well as Los Feliz, Atwater Village, Echo Park and communities stretching to East Hollywood.
But while many categories of crime are down, so far this year, communities patrolled by LAPD’s Northeast Division have experienced a 40 percent increase in homicides in the last year. There have been 7 homicides as of July 18 of this year, compared to five during the same time period in 2011. Homicides, however, are up 75 percent compared to 2010, when there were only four.
Aggravated assaults are up 25 percent compared to last year; but down 17 percent compared to 2010.
Grant Theft Auto is up 16 percent so far this year, with 80 more car thefts than last year. During the last two years there has been a 12 percent increase in car thefts, according to the stations’ CompStat report.
Senior Lead Officer Craig Orange on Tuesday night was the main attraction, sitting in a dunk tank as a long line of children took turns throwing a ball for a chance to send him falling into a tank of water.
Orange told EGP earlier that day that Highland Park has experienced an increase in gang activity over the last few weeks and several arrests have been made. The arrests resulted from traffic stops and calls generated by community members, he said.
Most of the gang related homicides in the Northeast area so far this year have been in Highland Park and Glassell Park, he said.
On Aug. 2, the same day the car theft shot-caller was arrested at Eagle Rock Plaza, a community meeting on crime in Highland Park was getting underway. Helicopters were buzzing a few blocks away over Avenue 61 and Piedmont Street as police searched for and arrested two men who were reportedly seen with a gun.
In response to an up-tick in shootings in Highland Park last month, the Northeast Station has deployed additional officers to patrol the area and adopted a “zero tolerance policy,” Orange said.
“Anybody hanging out … if they are gang members, whether they have an injunction, are drinking in public, loitering, or if it’s a driving violation, we will cite you. If you have a warrant [for your arrest], you’ll probably be arrested as well,” he said.
The lion’s share of shootings and gang activity in Highland Park has taken place on Monte Vista Street, between Avenue 52 and Avenue 60, according to Officer Adam Mezquita.
The Northeast Division is using social media to keep the community informed about recent crimes, an effort Huizar credits to Capt. Murphy’s leadership. However, the gang activity has already spilled onto the “Northeast Area LAPD” Facebook page.
Earlier this month, a gang member used the social media site to mock recent arrests, saying “you can’t stop us” and using derogatory terms for rival gangs, according to Officer Curtis Davis, a crime analyst who manages the Facebook page.
Davis said they were aware this could happen at some point and had already set up a filter to censor any posts with profanities. The gang member did not make any threats, and has been banned from the page, Davis said. “Given this activity and what we are trying to do, we thought it was important to nip it in the bud,” he said.
Phil Duplag, who attended the National Night Out event with his wife and four-year-old daughter, recently moved to Highland Park. He said his family attended the event in order to build unity and camaraderie with the community and local businesses, as well as to meet the councilmember. The Duplag family previously lived in Eagle Rock for eight years but visit Eagle Rock almost on a daily basis.
Duplag and Orange both noted the increase in homeownership in Highland Park. Orange said gentrification in the last 5 to 7 years has cleaned up the community, but there are still certain areas and streets that have gang ties, with gang members either living there or frequenting the area.
“Some of them have been eradicated, based on laws, injunctions, stronger prison sentences… but you still have juveniles trying to put work in to build a name for themselves,” Orange said.
Duplag said he hoped an increase in family-oriented residents would also change the climate.
“I hope Highland Park would be the same way as Eagle Rock because right now we are actively putting our children in Eagle Rock, rather than Highland Park… that’s really a shame,” he said.
Speakers at the National Night Out event emphasized that community participation, such as joining organizations adds to the sense of community and contributes to public safety.
“Let’s keep looking out for one another, let’s look out for our families and let’s take care of ourselves,” Huizar said.