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Combined Task Force to Target Skid Row Crime

The effort, starting Sunday, adds 50 officers on foot. It is based on a Valley program.

September 23, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

A long-promised strike force, including 50 additional police officers on foot patrol, will begin on skid row this weekend, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Friday.

The announcement of a Sunday launch for the skid row effort, which will also add prosecutors, parole officers and trash crews, came the same day Villaraigosa and other officials touted the success of a model effort in the San Fernando Valley community of North Hills.

Officials credited the North Hills Safer City Initiative for a 15% drop in serious crimes during its first year. Like its downtown counterpart, the northeast Valley neighborhood had suffered from drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves operating openly on the streets.

The improvement in North Hills, documented at a news conference Friday, came even as crime rose in other parts of the Valley.

And although the problems are much greater on skid row, officials believe that the approach taken in North Hills -- concentrated efforts by multiple agencies -- can work downtown.

"We have made important gains, but more work remains to be done," Villaraigosa said Friday, standing with Police Chief William J. Bratton next to a revamped business in North Hills.

"This Sunday, we will launch a comprehensive effort in the skid row area of downtown. We'll be deploying 50 police officers there and ramp up efforts to improving the quality of life in the most impoverished area of our city."

In addition to the 50 foot and bike patrol officers, undercover narcotics officers have moved into skid row, making 200 arrests for drug sales in 10 days, said Capt. Andrew Smith, commanding officer of Central Division.

As it did in North Hills, the program on skid row will also enlist other agencies for help in evicting nuisance tenants, closing problem liquor outlets, fixing broken street lights and removing graffiti and trash, Smith said.

"We are looking at abating several nuisance properties, including some hotels that allow drug dealers and gang members to operate on their premises," he said.

While crime involving violence declined by 10% in North Hills so far this year, it is up 1% across the Valley, said Capt. Jorge A. Villegas, commanding officer of the Mission Division.

In the neighboring North Hollywood Division, violent crime is up 11%.

"The biggest complaint in North Hills before this program was the open and blatant narcotics sales by gang members," Villegas said. "There is still some activity but it's not open and blatant."

North Hills had the fourth-highest number of narcotics arrests among 1,000 reporting districts in the city. By sending extra police, prosecutors, probation officers and building inspectors into North Hills, the program produced 470 more arrests, a 15% increase.

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who assigned special prosecutors to North Hills, said his office filed 364 criminal cases for drug dealing and prostitution and had a 98% conviction rate.

Bratton said North Hills and three other communities in Los Angeles are already showing the value of the Safer City Initiative, which involves a collaboration among city, county and state agencies, as well as local business and community groups.

"The criminal element, which preys upon the homeless and mentally ill, will be targeted, arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Bratton said of the skid row initiative. He added that his officers will heed a court decision that limits their ability to arrest people for sleeping on sidewalks.

City officials announced the results for North Hills in front of the former Las Brisas bar, which was closed by a joint effort of city and state officials in part because it was deemed a magnet for criminal activity.

"Today, there are four new businesses here, each contributing to the comeback of this area," Villaraigosa said.

The North Hills Safer City Initiative was the first of its kind in Los Angeles, although it has since been expanded to include Hollywood, MacArthur Park and Baldwin Village.

The program focuses on three goals: enforcement, enhancement and outreach to the community.

The city prosecutors and LAPD officers also joined in initiating the eviction of 38 problem tenants from apartments in the area, Delgadillo said.

Beyond the crime-fighting, the agencies in the program held monthly meetings to pursue neighborhood cleanup efforts.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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