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Rampart: Streets, Cops Are Tough

May 12, 1985|ANDY FURILLO | Times Staff Writer

Officer Doran Christenson has walked the night beat in the heart of the Rampart Division, the Los Angeles Police Department's busiest, for 14 years.

His beat--the MacArthur Park area--takes him into some of the city's meanest neighborhoods in pursuit of robbers and burglars, dope dealers and prostitutes, wife beaters and car thieves.

And like most street cops in Rampart, Christenson loves his work.

"You've got to admit it," Christenson said, turning to his longtime partner, Paul Afdahl, as they raced to a shooting. "This is fun."

Christenson is one of 193 street cops in Rampart, which last year had 64,096 calls for service--more than any other division in the city--and 23,009 major crime reports, second highest in the city.

Despite the heavy action--in fact, because of it--Rampart is considered one of the best places in Los Angeles to be a street cop. No one at Rampart asks to transfer, and officers wanting in must get on a waiting list.

With its guaranteed daily intensity and prospects for danger, Rampart is a street cop's paradise, where officers get the chance to do the work that made them want to join the Police Department in the first place.

"I like going out there and getting the hell scared out of me," said Officer Ron Aguilar, 41, an 18-year department veteran who moved to Rampart in 1974.

"A call goes out about a guy with a shotgun, shooting off rounds. Your common sense tells you, 'Get the hell out of there.' But the cops here fight to go to those calls."

Unlike most divisions, with their homogenous ethnic configurations and routine crime patterns, Rampart has a variety of people and problems that makes each day on the job a unique experience.

'You Never Know'

"You leave for work every night, and you can't expect that it will go any one way," the 41-year-old Christenson said. "It's like fishing. You never know what you're going to catch."

Along with the variety comes the excitement of a busy division that some Rampart officers find addictive.

"We need that adrenaline," Aguilar added. "We're like hypes, but instead of heroin, our junk is adrenaline. We need it. I couldn't work a job eight hours a day where you don't do anything."

At Rampart, the brass leave the street cops alone to do their jobs. The division's day-to-day operations are run by 31 sergeants, most of whom have been at the station for a decade or more and who are known for an easy-going management style. "We don't do so much leading as guiding," said Sgt. Stan Freedman, 40, the assistant watch commander on the night shift. "Take a division like Southwest or 77th. There are so many new officers down there, the supervisors have to rein them in. In this division, the supervisors let the officers run the show."

Rampart includes a large, politically influential gay community in Silver Lake, about half of Koreatown, a good chunk of the densely populated Wilshire corridor, the accompanying Wilshire business district and the gang- and drug-infested Pico-Union District.

Located west of the Harbor Freeway, north of Santa Monica Freeway, east of Normandie Avenue and south of Silver Lake and Echo Park, Rampart has undergone enormous changes since the station opened at 2710 W. Temple St. in 1966, when the division's 11.7 square miles were broken off from the old Central area.

When Rampart opened two decades ago, it was among the least active in the Police Department. Aguilar remembers when the people who called the station were mostly retired folks living in peaceful neighborhoods.

"The calls were like kaffeeklatsches," Aguilar said. "It was like: 'Hello, officer. How is everything, officer? Can I get you a piece of cake while you fill out the report?' "

Rampart's pace has quickened in the ensuing years. Last year, the division recorded 85 homicides, 195 rapes, 2,160 robberies, 4,599 burglaries and 5,304 auto thefts. Only Wilshire Division had more crime than Rampart.

The division's official population of 252,000, according to the city's 1983 estimate, is 57.2% Latino, 20.7% white, 17.9% Asian, 3.5% black and 0.7% native American.

L.A.'s Ellis Island

Those numbers do not, however, reflect the estimated 50,000 illegal aliens who live in a division that has become something of the Ellis Island of Los Angeles.

For tens of thousands of immigrants--legal and illegal--from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, South Korea and Vietnam, Rampart is their first home in the United States. Filipino and Cuban communities also thrive there.

Rampart street cops view the new immigrants with mixed emotions.

"In some cases, you find yourself feeling sorry for them," Christenson said. "You're not a machine, and some of these people are here to make a better life for themselves.

"But a good many of them, unfortunately, are criminal types who have nothing to offer this country. It's too bad we can't get rid of those individuals."

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