As the setting sun casts a dusky glow over a tumbledown corner of Hollywood, Gilbert Cruz and his buddies interrupt their parking-lot baseball game to eye the two police officers walking through a nearby yard.
In Cruz's gang-infested neighborhood, near Yucca Street and Wilcox Avenue, seeing police out of their cars and on foot usually means trouble.
But over the past two weeks, it has meant something altogether different.
"When we're playing baseball," Cruz says, "they're, like, protecting us."
In response to a burgeoning crime wave in Hollywood, officers have been deployed in pairs to walk the neighborhood night and day, to keep the peace. As Cruz and his buddies resumed their game, the two officers traversed the half-mile square block of streets and sidewalks just north of Hollywood Boulevard, an area police have classified as a crime "hot spot" worthy of the special foot patrols.
For the next eight hours, the pair stopped to chat with pet owners out for their evening constitutionals, winos propped up against fence posts, teen-age rockers strung out on drugs, and even the local homeboys--or gang members-- smoking cigarettes on street corners.
During their patrol, most of the residents they encountered made a point of telling officers Sue Herold and Max Izquierdo how much their presence was appreciated.
But some people are dissatisfied with the police effort, contending that the Los Angeles Police Department hasn't deployed as many troops as it had promised, and that they're not staying in the neighborhood long enough.
"We got gang bangers hanging, and wheeling and dealing in drugs, and it's like, where's the patrols?" asked Marc Gasber, a maintenance man at the Penthouse Billiards pool hall at 1810 N. Wilcox Ave.
Joseph Shea, who appeared with police at a recent news conference held to announce the foot beats, complained that only half of the eight officers promised have been seen out patrolling.
"The ones that are out there are doing a tremendous job, but they're not out there the whole 17 hours a day we were promised," said Shea, president of the Ivar Hill Community Assn. "I've driven around late at night and during the day and I just don't see them. And that's what many others report."
Patrol Sgt. Art Miller said eight officers have been assigned to the foot beats as promised, but that days off, vacations and court appearances often keep the weeknight teams to two officers per shift. On weekends, he said, four officers are always on patrol all day.
The officers generally patrol an area from Las Palmas Avenue east to Cahuenga Boulevard, and from Hollywood Boulevard north to Franklin Avenue.
Police also are frustrated. There were three homicides in Hollywood last weekend alone. All of them occurred outside the foot-patrol area.
Two men were shot to death on Saturday night along the 1700 block of Tamarind Avenue, a normally quiet residential area. A third man was stabbed to death at Gramercy Place and Franklin Avenue. There are no suspects in any of the three slayings, and police homicide detectives said none of them appeared gang or drug related.
"It's somewhat frustrating," said Patrol Capt. David Kalish. "You can't be everywhere, so you try to deploy where most of your problems are. And that's what we've been doing."
So far, the strategy appears successful.
"People feel confident with the foot patrol, and with seeing officers they are familiar with in their neighborhood," said Deputy Police Chief Glenn Levant, who supervises LAPD's four Westside police divisions, including Hollywood.
Police officers, stung by criticism in the wake of the Rodney G. King police beating controversy, say they feel good about the patrols too.
"It really is nice to go out there and hear people clap or give you the thumbs up," said Miller, who has gone on some of the patrols.
The foot patrols will continue at least through the summer. Because the officers were reassigned from cruiser patrols in Hollywood, the program does not require additional funding.
Results of the foot beats will become evident not in the number of arrests made, but in an anticipated drop in crime, Miller said. He said foot patrol officers have been told to avoid confrontations in favor of meeting residents and establishing a visible and friendly presence.
Like most of the officers chosen for the foot beats, both Izquierdo and Herold speak fluent Spanish. Their bilingualism comes in handy at every turn in the predominantly Latino neighborhood.
The officers say they have seen changes in the neighborhood already.
The homeboys no longer hang out at Yucca Street and Cherokee Avenue and sell rock cocaine to passing motorists--at least not when police are around.
As night falls, residents who had felt threatened by gangs and dealers can be seen walking their children down Yucca Street, running errands and doing the things people in other neighborhoods take for granted.
"If you had seen this place a week ago," Izquierdo says, sweeping his arm from east to west, "you wouldn't have believed it."
Herold is quick to agree. "You never saw families out here," she said, gesturing to a young couple shepherding their two toddlers down the sidewalk.
They encounter another young couple walking hand in hand in peaceful reverie. The couple stops and smiles.
"Esta muy bien--menos problemas para todos," said Magdalena Cervantes. This is good, she says; now there are fewer problems for everyone.