Yielding to pressure from community activists, Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Bernard C. Parks said Thursday they favor redeploying LAPD's senior lead officers, the community liaisons who had been assigned to routine patrol duties.
At a news conference Thursday, Riordan announced a plan to bring back and enhance the program he said will improve "community policing without reducing field or patrol resources."
The decision delighted San Fernando Valley leaders such as City Councilman Joel Wachs of Studio City. He praised Riordan's about-face, noting that support for the program ran deep in the Valley for many years.
"It's tremendously significant," said Wachs. "It's critical as part of the effort to reform the department and restore public confidence in the police."
Wachs, a mayoral candidate from Studio City, said the mayor and LAPD responded to pressure to reform the department, including an unsuccessful effort by some council members to put the senior lead officer program into the consent decree with the Justice Department that will reform police operations.
Riordan proposed putting the program's 168 senior lead officers on a seven-day schedule, and providing them with special training to enhance their ability to problem solve, plan strategically and deal effectively with the mentally disabled.
He also proposed phasing in half of the officers immediately and the remaining 84 during the coming fiscal year.
The Police Commission will consider Riordan's proposal next Tuesday.
"I'm fully supportive of the mayor's call for reinstating the senior lead officer program--and enhancing it," said Police Commissioner Gerald Chalef. "I think it's an outstanding program."
Senior lead officers were deployed in the early 1990s on the recommendation of the Christopher Commission as part of an effort to repair damaged relations between police and the community.
Under the program, 168 officers were assigned to work as liaisons to Neighborhood Watch groups, homeowner associations and business leaders, with a goal of addressing such crimes as graffiti and drug dealing. The program proved popular in many neighborhoods, and there was an outcry from community activists when Parks announced in 1999 that he was reassigning the lead officers to routine patrol duties. The change, he said, was part of an effort to involve the entire force in community policing.
Since scrapping the program, Parks had dismissed repeated calls from activists and many city officials to bring back the senior lead officers.
But he changed his position Thursday.
"The department is pleased that the mayor shares in the department's committed goal of institutionalizing community-based policing" throughout the department, Parks said.
At a news conference outside the Hollenbeck police station in Boyle Heights, Riordan said the restored program "will be better than ever."
"Senior lead officers will be able to fulfill their patrol duties," Riordan said, "providing a visible neighborhood presence, greater access seven days a week and accountability to community leaders."
Parks' change of mind was welcomed by Neighborhood Watch groups and activists. In North Hollywood, residents Sandra Munz and Page Miller had formed a group called Save Our Senior Leads.
"We are cautiously optimistic," Munz said after the announcement.
Miller said Riordan had little choice, with most City Council members, five mayoral candidates and community leaders pushing for the senior leads to be restored.