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Policing a Valley City: the Reality

Are residents ready to give up LAPD resources?

September 28, 2002|TERRY SCHAUER | Terry Schauer is a retired Los Angeles police officer who lives in Sherman Oaks.

I am surprised and dismayed when I hear comments from people who profess that one of the strong arguments for San Fernando Valley secession would be increased police presence. They should put down their lattes and look at the real priorities followed by every urban department in allotting police resources.

All too often, secession supporters "south of the boulevard"--that would be the hill dwellers and others south of Ventura Boulevard--speak of a utopian city, comparing the "new" Valley city to small, wealthy enclaves such as Calabasas. They envision a police car on every block, no crime and the "down-home" atmosphere of Mayberry, where perhaps the local cop on the beat could drive you to church or pick up your groceries at Gelson's.

They forget or dismiss the rest of the new city, north of Ventura Boulevard, and seem unwilling to accept that diminished police resources in the new city would have to be parceled out to protect all the residents in a city that would rival Phoenix in size.

I live in the Valley, and when I talk with the south-of-the-boulevard people, some seem unaware of how policing works. Typically, they say that "it'll be so nice to have the police close by, so they'll be there when we need them." One said, "We never see police on my street." Well, she lives on a dead-end canyon street that probably hasn't seen a serious crime, or any crime, in years.

I spent most of my Los Angeles Police Department career as a senior lead officer in the West Los Angeles Division, which includes inarguably the wealthiest communities in Los Angeles. Although affluent residents of the division pay dearly in property taxes, they get back next to nothing in the numbers of officers assigned to their neighborhoods. Why? Police resources are sent where they are needed most--areas with higher crime, more calls for service and denser population.

As much as the residents of Brentwood, Bel-Air and the Palisades are "entitled," the LAPD cannot give them their "fair share" of police resources while ignoring those in less affluent communities who suffer with serious crime on a daily basis.

Some of the wealthy residents resented the imbalance, but those with a brain surely realized that heavier enforcement in high-crime areas also helped to keep the rich folks safe.

And so it would be in the new Valley city. The new mayor would look at the map and the numbers and put his now more-limited police resources where they were required, which would not be Sherman Oaks, Encino or Studio City.

Valley residents currently have access to all the resources of one of the largest and best-equipped municipal police agencies in the world. Many times, during disasters and unusual occurrences in the Valley, I was part of the sea of blue that poured "over the hill" to help, within minutes of being called up.

One of the officers who received an LAPD medal of valor for his actions at the North Hollywood bank robbery in 1997 had raced over from my Westside division. He was one of the first officers to confront the suspect who was running and shooting, coming up to him on foot and engaging the robber in gunfire. Both the 1971 and 1994 earthquakes saw the Valley flooded with police from other, less-damaged parts of the city.

Are my neighbors ready to give that up?

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