I am a senior lead officer, or SLO, in the LAPD's Newton Division, among the most violent of Los Angeles' 18 police divisions. I am the SLO for the Basic Car Area known as 13A41, roughly the area bounded by Adams Boulevard to the north, Vernon Avenue to the south, the 110 Freeway to the west and San Pedro Street to the east.
In 2003, 13A41 had the highest amount of violent crime among the nine Basic Car Areas of Newton. This year through Dec. 18, 13A41 violent crime has decreased 23%, more than in any other area in Newton. It is no longer the most violent neighborhood in Newton. It went from being No. 9 -- the most violent -- to No. 3. (The least violent is the area north of the 10 Freeway, which is nonresidential and mainly industrial and manufacturing.)
Knowing that we have limited LAPD resources, I tapped into the biggest resource available to police: the community. In January 2004, I analyzed the violent crime trends in 13A41 and selected the most violent blocks to implement a plan.
What I did and continue to do is park my patrol car in the middle of a block with the light bar on. I knock on every door on the block and invite residents to a block club that I am organizing that will meet in half an hour on the sidewalk, next to my car. After 35 minutes, neighbors begin congregating next to the police car and begin talking with one another, something that many have not done other than in times of major earthquakes or other big disasters.
During these meetings, I introduce myself as their SLO. I ask the neighbors to introduce themselves to the group and say how long they have lived on that block. The average length of residency is 15 years. Many neighbors who never met before or who knew one another only well enough to wave hello while driving down their driveways actually talk.
Sometimes, when patrol officers are not handling emergency calls, I invite the beat officers to a block and introduce them to the residents. These officers are likely to be the ones who respond to the 911 calls. The officers enjoy the interaction, which allows both sides to engage one another in a situation other than incidents of crime.
Magically, it seems that barriers are broken between police and community. Trust is enhanced.
Block after block I see a certain dynamic from the people; they are all on the same page regarding what they see that needs to be improved. We talk about the challenges that gangs create in the community, and I remind the neighbors that the young gang members at the corner whom everyone sees spraying graffiti are not orphans but are the sons, nephews and godchildren of someone listening.
We come to an understanding that these challenges are something we all must deal with, especially in the community that the gang members belong to.
Dealing with these problems just takes leadership and will. City Councilman Martin Ludlow has proposed an urban affairs department to deal with gangs. I hope that his idea will find fruition so that we can take the next step in helping residents repair the torn fabric that exists in their neighborhoods.