A permanent police substation at MacArthur Park is still up in the air, but the Rampart Division recently introduced the next best thing: a substation on wheels.
The Rampart Community Mobile Substation is a customized Chevrolet truck equipped with a generator, police radios, television monitors, computer hookups, running water and everything officers need to set up shop whenever they feel a police presence is needed.
The substation went into service at the park two weeks ago. It will be set up there about twice a week, serving as a base for bike patrols and as a mini-station where people can file police reports, ask questions, bring complaints or just relax nearby in a section of the park they know will remain trouble-free as long as the substation is there.
"The biggest plus is that crime ceases when we're here," said Officer David Bachman, one of two policemen who staffed the substation last week in the park near the corner of 7th and Alvarado streets, often a hub for drug dealers and sales of forged identification documents.
The park has also become known as a place where local residents--many of whom live in the area's cramped apartments and have no other recreational space--often become victims of extortion by territorial gang members who demand money for the right to sit on benches or lie in the grass.
As he basked in last week's sunshine a few yards away from the mobile substation, frequent park-goer Jun Santiago felt a little more at ease than usual.
"This is a nice place, but you can't deny that there are lots of people doing illegal things around here," said Santiago, a recent immigrant from the Philippines who lives near the park. "But as soon as the police come, they just scatter."
Because criminals often end up relocating to other sections of the park, the officers at the substation work closely with two bicycle officers who patrol the park daily. The substation serves as a sort of mobile command post for the bike detail, which responds to tips gathered at the substation from citizens in the park area.
The mobile substation is one of three purchased by the Police Department last year with federal grant funds issued to the city after the 1992 riots. Both the 77th and Newton divisions have also beefed up their crime-fighting arsenals with mobile substations, which cost about $100,000 each.
When the Rampart substation is not in use at the park, it is set up in other hot spots. Although the mobile substation will remain a fixture in MacArthur Park, city officials are still pondering ways to fund the conversion of a former boathouse on the park's lake into a permanent substation.
Rampart police have requested a 10-space parking lot for the facility, but officials from the Department of Recreation and Parks are not sure whether they can fund construction.
One option is to fold plans for the desired parking lot into plans for a proposed subterranean parking structure at the park, which would allow the city to use Department of Transportation funds for the police lot instead.
A driveway leading to the boathouse already exists. Officers say the boathouse, which has been used as a temporary post by Rampart police in the past, is too small to accommodate the flow of traffic in and out of a permanent facility.