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Police Step Up Arrests in Bid to 'Reclaim' MacArthur Park

January 09, 1994|JAKE DOHERTY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Capt. Nick Salicos, the new commanding officer at the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division, is conducting an experiment and his laboratory is MacArthur Park, once an urban oasis but tarnished in recent years by crime.

Since assuming his post in November, Salicos has made safety at the 32-acre park a priority, increasing regular patrols to four--consisting of eight to 10 officers on foot or bikes spread out over the day.

"I've told the officers to stay there, don't leave, live there, even if it's slow," Salicos said. "No matter how small the offense is, if it's a legitimate arrest, we're going to make it. We're not tolerating any criminality."

Within the first nine days of the cleanup, officers made 65 arrests. Two hundred arrests were made in the first three weeks, Salicos said.

"Two months ago, where there were prostitutes and dope dealers, there are now large numbers of families and small children playing in the park," Salicos said. "This little experiment is an exercise in what the LAPD can do when it has enough officers to reclaim a piece of turf."

A group of park regulars sitting on a bench on the south side of the park gave the cleanup a mixed review. One man said he has seen the same people back in the park selling drugs just days after they were arrested. And a woman said someone recently tried to sell her drugs while she was watching her granddaughter play.

But others say the park is safer.

"It's getting better and it's a definite improvement over, say, three years ago," said Dorothy Loftus, who has been coming to the park off and on since 1965. "People don't drink in the park anymore because the police were arresting them."

However, Loftus worried about the homeless people who used to sleep in the park. "I feel sorry for them because the police kicked them out," she said. "Where are they going to go?"

"I hope it doesn't push people back into the alleys east of the park," said Tom Coyle, chairman of the Westlake Neighborhood Watch. "Unless we're willing to have the police, health department and housing department hound people into getting the help they need, they're going to be a headache and burden to someone."

A good park recreation program could reduce area gang activity significantly, Coyle said, but the park's layout and the lack of funds preclude large sports programs, such as soccer games.

Nevertheless, Coyle and others applauded Salicos for focusing on the park, which is a key to revitalizing the neighborhood.

"The cops come by to check up on things so it's much better now than before," said John Lopez, one of the regulars on a bench near 7th Street. "People with kids are coming back now."

Another man suggested an additional improvement for the park: "They need some latrines here, desperately."

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