Williams, in reaching out to rank and file officers, has convened regular meetings with the Police Protective League, which represents most officers. Though the chief may disagree with union leaders on some key issues, including many of the Chistopher reforms, he said, "It's business. I'm not going to take it personal."
Bill Violante, league president, said the union is waiting to see what Williams does in the next six months and will pay particular attention to whether the new chief shows more loyalty to rank and file officers than to elected leaders. "We'll be the first to yell the loudest if we find that he's being controlled and manipulated by the political forces at City Hall," said Violante.
CHAPTER 3 / Making peace, new alliances
For the past two months, Officer Andre Wright has been working from a donated office in the Martin Luther King Shopping Center on 103rd Street. He strolls around the center, chatting with children, senior citizens and parents. Occasionally he helps shoppers who lock themselves out of their cars. "A lot of people are surprised to have a policeman just approach them to talk," he said.
In the Southeast Division, police earlier this year opened a mini-station at a Latino church in Watts and staffed it with a Spanish-speaking officer who works with neighborhood young people and helps parents learn English. "He does a beautiful job with the children," said Sister Maria Luz Hernandez of San Miguel Catholic Church. "He even comes over on Saturday sometimes. They love him."
Community-based policing is the cornerstone of proposed LAPD reforms, but its implementation has been uneven and sluggish, with the new chief only recently taking steps to give it a clearer direction. The strongest examples of neighborhood problem-solving and citizen-police cooperation have evolved in the San Fernando Valley, parts of East Los Angeles and the Harbor area.
The largest program is in the Valley, where all five police stations were ordered to initiate programs in June, 1991, three months after the King incident. Today, the reviews are mixed. Crime continues to increase, although at a slower rate. And police emergency response times have slipped slightly as more officers have been shifted to work with citizen groups. On the positive side, citizen participation in advisory councils and neighborhood watch groups has increased as much as 75%, according to officials.
In South-Central Los Angeles, at the behest of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas' office, police have embarked on an ambitious, grass-roots approach to citizen involvement. Eighty residents of the 77th Street division have been elected to an advisory panel in a series of neighborhood meetings. Because of the effort's sheer size, "we haven't even seen if it's really going to work," said Sgt. Ray Foster, a community relations officer.
Some politicians are concerned that these panels could become too exclusive, or springboards for political rivals and causes. But Ridley-Thomas said he fears that police might dominate the groups. "What kind of players do we want the community to be, active or passive?" he asked.
Williams said he wants the councils to be "an extension" of the LAPD but to include "friends and foes, advocates and critics." In an application for $379,000 in federal funds--already tentatively approved--the chief said he would establish Police Advisory Councils in all 18 LAPD divisions by next fall. The proposal envisions canvassing "community organizations, block clubs, business organizations and the like" for prospective participants and calls for "intimate and frank discussions" between residents and police personnel sitting as "policy equals." Special training of commanders, community relations officers and about 300 residents is also planned.
Across the nation, cities are turning to community policing as a means to enlist the public in the fight against crime and to make police more responsive to the needs of particular neighborhoods. But the programs do not cure all ills.
In Detroit, for example, Stanley Knox, a black man and the police chief since last year, set up an "unbeatable team" approach of having his department work with the community. He wears his police uniform every day. "I'm out there all the time," he said. "I don't hide behind a desk in a dark suit." Despite his efforts, his department this month was thrust into the national spotlight when an unarmed black man was beaten to death by police, triggering community outrage.
In New York, where police have been criticized for racial insensitivity, Lee P. Brown, the former commissioner of police, continues to push the merits of community policing. "The No. 1 priority has to be public safety," he said. "When you put more officers on the street, it becomes an immediate deterrent to crime and it also gets more people involved with the police in a partnership to prevent crime. People want to see a police officer on their street and say with pride, 'That's my police officer.' "