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Community News: Mid-City

KOREATOWN : Private Patrol Supplements Police

August 01, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

In-Ha Cho survived two tours of duty in Vietnam as a Marine in the South Korean armed forces with barely a scratch.

Nearly 30 years later, Cho, now an acupuncturist and a doctor of Oriental medicine, was shot in his right leg and ankle as he tried to stop looters from pillaging a store near the corner of Venice Boulevard and Oxford Avenue on April 30, 1992.

From his hospital bed, Cho, 59, thought about the toll that crime was exacting on the residents and businesses of Koreatown, where he has worked since 1978. When he recovered, he decided to use his own money and contacts to establish a private security patrol to supplement the police presence in Koreatown.

With nine trained and licensed security officers he was acquainted with through his position as president of the Korean Veterans Assn. in the western United States, Cho established the Tae-Kuk Crime Prevention Center in February. Cho used $200,000 from the mortgage of a building he owns in South Korea.

"I want this to be a peaceful place for the next generation," said Cho, the father of three children. His daughter, Cecilia, works in the dispatch office on Wilshire Boulevard.

Every day except Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., two Tae-Kuk Security Patrol cars, black Ford Taurus sedans with yellow lettering, cruise the area bounded by 6th Street, Pico Boulevard, Alvarado Street and Crenshaw Boulevard. Tae-Kuk is the Korean word for the design on the South Korean flag.

The uniformed security officers are armed, a measure they said is primarily for their own protection. "We're only a crime prevention patrol. We're not arresting people," said patrol member Dong Kim, a former McDonnell Douglas engineer. "But this is still a very dangerous job."

Recently, a patrol member who had stopped to talk with two men who had spit at his car found himself surrounded by about 25 men, some of whom kicked him and tried to take his gun from his holster, according to Cecilia Cho. He managed to radio for help, and police detained two men who allegedly assaulted the patrol member, she said.

Patrol members have detained robbery suspects for the police, assisted in the aftermath of traffic accidents, dispersed groups loitering in front of stores, and distributed hundreds of stickers with the patrol's telephone number.

"Their function is to observe and report" suspicious activity, said Officer Andrew Voge of the LAPD's Rampart Division, which covers part of Koreatown. If patrol members witness or suspect criminal activity, the patrol members radio their dispatcher, who notifies police.

Community and police evaluations of the patrol's effectiveness in deterring crime are mixed, but store owners generally appreciate the patrol.

"If I have a big problem I'll call the police, but if I have a little problem I call (Tae-Kuk)," said Ho Tae Kim, manager of a liquor store on 8th Street. "It's easier to communicate with (patrol members) because they speak Korean and they get here a lot faster than the police."

Although Cho has yet to seek donations to fund the patrol, which is incorporated as a nonprofit organization, several store owners, a Korean-language radio station and two Korean-language filmmakers have made contributions. The cost of running the patrol is about $30,000 a month.

Cho said he plans to launch a fund-raising campaign and would like to hire African-American, Latino and Anglo security officers to complement the Korean-American patrol members.

"We need to unify all ethnic groups to help stop crime," Cho said. "This patrol could be a start."

Information: (213) 487-0011.

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