Members of the Wilshire Community Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles Police Department recently piled into patrol cars for a nighttime tour of the 15-square-mile division and an update on crime in each neighborhood.
The cars swung by spacious homes in Hancock Park, cramped apartment buildings in Koreatown, swanky shops in the Beverly Center and frequently besieged Mid-City convenience stores.
But for the members of the advisory committee, the tour was more than just a front-row seat to what could have been an episode of the television show "Cops." It was one step in the long process of defining the committee's role.
The Wilshire group is one of at least seven such committees organized among the LAPD's 18 divisions since the Christopher Commission recommended that police do more to build bridges with residents. It has 16 members selected by senior lead officers from a cross-section of block clubs and neighborhood associations.
The mission of the committee, which was formed in November, is to work with police to implement community-based policing, a vague concept for most citizens and officers. However it is defined, it is likely to require changes by the public and the police, committee members say.
"There's still some leeriness of the Police Department by some members of the public," said Albert Booker Jr., co-chairman of the committee. Although many officers are respectful and friendly, others cling to attitudes and behaviors criticized by the Christopher Commission's 1991 review of LAPD operations, he said.
On the other hand, citizens should not expect the police to solve problems such as homelessness, unemployment and poverty even if they affect the amount of crime in an area, Booker said.
"We need to stop looking at the police as social workers and let them be police, but we don't want them to be the Gestapo, either," he said.
George Richter, co-chairman of the Wilshire committee, said he hoped the group can become "a funnel for community opinions" on police priorities and practices.
Barry Greenberg, another member of the committee, said the success of community-based policing reforms will require the involvement of residents who have long felt "disenfranchised and distrustful of the LAPD."
Community safety depends on residents acting as the eyes and ears of the police, participating in Neighborhood Watch activities and reporting crimes whenever they occur, despite the frustrations encountered in dealing with an understaffed department, Greenberg said.
Still, with residents focused on their own blocks, "people have a tough time acknowledging that we're all in this together," Greenberg said. The tour was a step toward forging an understanding among committee members of the division's problems and their role as resident advocates, he said.
But a full partnership between citizens and police may be a long way off. "I bet most of the officers don't know that the advisory committee exists," said one Wilshire senior lead officer.