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LAPD Tests New Policing Strategy

Chief picks three areas as proving grounds for his 'broken windows' system to fight crime.

February 02, 2003|Richard Winton and Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writers

As the symbolic gateway to Los Angeles, Hollywood Boulevard is ground zero in the new battle against crime and urban blight.

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton has chosen the area as a proving ground for his new policing strategy, which holds that maintaining public order is at least as important as solving crimes and that attacking low-level offenses can reduce fear and prevent more serious offenses.

Bratton selected the Hollywood strip, MacArthur Park and downtown's skid row as his first targets. Step by step, the Los Angeles Police Department has been introducing the "broken windows" system he used as New York's top police officer.

Even before the program is fully geared up, the LAPD reports crime has begun to drop, following the pattern in New York, which experienced double-digit declines on Bratton's watch.

In Los Angeles, Bratton has not picked easy proving grounds. Hollywood has two-thirds of all prostitution arrests in the city. Skid row is home to the largest concentration of homeless and is in the LAPD division that logged more drug sales arrests than any other last year. The city already has spent millions trying to clean up MacArthur Park, in the middle of a poor, overcrowded, crime-plagued neighborhood.

"Parks are essential to the quality of life in a city," Bratton said. "If the small things are left undeterred, they turn into big things. So the homeless take over a portion of the park. Drug dealers follow. Drug dealers beget violence. It then begins to affect the whole business area and businesses begin to die."

A broken window signals that no one cares, the theory goes. Graffiti, vandalism and prostitution foster fear, and more serious crime follows.

"What people see every day generates so much of their fear. Graffiti, homelessness and drug dealers. That's what drives people out of the cities," Bratton said. "It's all about quality-of-life issues."

The LAPD is developing precise plans for controlling graffiti, public drinking, prostitution and street drug sales. Some of the plans require legislation and will not be complete until spring. But police believe they have begun to make progress, citing a crime drop in the park and other improvements.

In a series of interviews, Bratton and subordinates offered some hints of what may still come: the possibility of locking the park after dark, of gathering the homeless within skid row to better control them at night and a new offensive against the customers of prostitutes in Hollywood.

In New York, Bratton cracked down on people who wiped windshields without invitation, then asked for money, when drivers stopped at red lights.

"The squeegee pests were symbols of fear and lack of police control and disorder," he said. "The equivalent in downtown is begging. Some of it's benign. But it raises the degree of discomfort for the average person."

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Along Hollywood Boulevard, Bratton's plans have encountered a receptive audience.

"Chief Bratton's approach makes sense," said Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Entertainment District, a business improvement group. "Anyone who has seen the changes in areas where quality-of-life crimes have been the focus knows that."

Hundreds of millions of private and public dollars have been invested in development of the Hollywood & Highland shopping and entertainment complex, in the new Kodak Theatre and the revival of landmarks such as the Egyptian Theatre.

But the area is still a magnet for the homeless, and narcotics sales are still a major concern.

At night and sometimes during the day, dealers and their lookouts can be seen working on corners, such as Cahuenga and Hollywood boulevards. Bratton, who lives nearby, frequently visits crime scenes there.

Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents part of Hollywood, said drug dealers, prostitution and gang activity are the main problems, and Bratton is moving in the right direction with foot beats and other forms of proactive policing.

"We have the right formula, but we need people," Garcetti said.

LAPD Capt. Michael Downing is Bratton's point man in the Hollywood cleanup effort, the man whose job it is to make sure things don't go wrong. The kind of risk-taker and innovator whom Bratton encourages, Downing, as commander of the Hollywood Division, launched Operation Restore Hollywood shortly before Christmas.

Narcotics and gang officers joined with a county interagency anti-drug task force, parole officers and a neighborhood prosecutor to pursue the pushers, many of whom work for the notorious 18th Street gang.

Downing was acting on the chief's philosophy: Bust a drug dealer or snag a tagger and you also may catch a killer. Officers believe they have affected more than drug sales. "Robberies are down 60%," Downing said.

Officers now regularly check up on parolees by looking for their names on hotel registers, something not done before.

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