Many residents and merchants in southern Silver Lake were pleased with the recent shift of their neighborhood from the Los Angeles Police Department's hyper-busy Rampart Division to the relatively quiet Northeast Division.
There was, however, one nagging concern: that the Northeast station, situated on the other side of the Los Angeles River and Golden State Freeway, might be too far away or, worse, inaccessible if bridges were blocked.
Now officials say they are taking steps to allay those fears.
Plans are being formulated to open a storefront office on Hyperion Avenue where officers can do paper work without having to return to the main station house on San Fernando Road. The idea is to have the officers remain in Silver Lake as long as possible.
Police and city officials caution that the office is not to be a substation with full-time staff and not a spot to seek emergency aid or file complaints. For that, they say, citizens should still dial 911 or visit Northeast headquarters.
Nevertheless, the Silver Lake Merchants Assn. was so anxious to beef up security that its members have pledged to pay the rent and utilities for the office--about $400 a month--for the first year. It is expected to open in about six weeks or less, according to Larry Lloyd, the restaurateur who is association president.
"Any additional presence of police is a deterrent to crime," said Lloyd.
He explained that merchants had wanted the so-called police community center for a long time, but that the Dec. 28 shift in police division boundaries "was the deciding factor."
That change took parts of Silver Lake, Echo Park and Elysian Heights from Rampart, which was the busiest of the city's 18 police divisions, and gave them to Northeast, which ranked 13th. Area residents had long complained that Rampart was too busy with murders and drug wars in MacArthur Park and the Pico-Union neighborhood to pay much attention to burglaries and vandalism in Silver Lake.
Police Capt. Noel Cunningham, the Northeast commander, said this week that those complaints about Rampart were valid. He said it is too early to say whether the switch to his division has improved police response time or cut the incidence of crime. "But, at least, citizens can be assured they have a patrol car on the streets they did not see before," he said.
"The general perception is that Silver Lake has benefited from the switch," said Eric Schockman, aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents the area. Woo's office has been working for several months with the police and merchants on arranging for the Hyperion Avenue office, Schockman said. "I'm very, very optimistic," he said of prospects for the center.
Because of the steep hills, the freeway and the river, parts of Silver Lake are isolated and "present some response problems," Cunningham said. Having the center on Hyperion should ease those problems, the captain explained.
Cunningham said he does not want to use the term storefront to describe the office because that might connote full-time staffing and falsely raise expectations. There is no guarantee that officers will show up there on any regular schedule, he said.
Woo hopes that the office one day can be turned into a full-time substation, according to Schockman. "Yes, we'd rather have a half million dollars appropriated for a substation, but that is not the reality," Schockman said. "This is a beginning of a process."
The merchants association is negotiating for the lease of an empty storefront on the west side of Hyperion, just south of De Longpre Avenue, between an auto body shop and an animal feed store, officials said. That is across the street from Partners & Co., the restaurant owned by Lloyd, association president. Lloyd said the storefront was chosen because of its lower rent and central location. The proximity to his business, he said, is a coincidence.
Cunningham said he would prefer the office to be farther east on Fountain Avenue, closer to Sunset Boulevard, to give easier access to the two patrol cars that cover Los Feliz and Silver Lake. But he said the department's needs must be balanced with the fact that the center's "principal supporters are business people on Hyperion."
The concept of neighborhood businesses and residents paying the rent on a community field office for police is not new, according to Lt. Dan Cooke, Police Department spokesman. There already are four such offices, all geared to making non-English-speaking people feel more comfortable. They are in Koreatown, Chinatown, East Los Angeles and Canoga Park, he said, and are usually staffed by volunteer translators.
During the recent campaign for the empty 1st District seat on the Los Angeles City Council, candidate Larry Gonzalez proposed that discretionary office funds left unspent by the district's caretaker staff be used to pay for six months' rent on a similar storefront operation in Highland Park's main shopping district. Gonzalez lost to Gloria Molina who, according to a spokesman Wednesday, would look into the idea.
Fearing a drop in police protection, some Highland Park residents were angered when the Northeast Division moved in 1983 from its landmark headquarters on York Boulevard in Highland Park to a renovated warehouse at 3353 San Fernando Road, in the Atwater-Glassell Park area.