CRENSHAW — Rising gang violence, including two people being killed and four others being assaulted in a six-hour period in mid-March, prompted Los Angeles police officials to hold a town hall meeting to calm residents’ fears.
The crimes included the “exchange of fire between two rival gangs,” LAPD’s Southwest Division Chief Gerald Woodyard said. ”That six hours felt like it wasn’t going to end. If we don’t get in front of this, could you imagine what can happen in six weeks to six months?”
“But we are not going to let that happen in Southwest,” Woodyard told members of several area block clubs and the division’s Community Police Advisory Board and Clergy Council, gathered at West Angeles Church in God in Christ March 22 for the meeting.
According to Deputy Chief Bill Scott, the head of the South Bureau, “violent crime is on the increase pretty much all across the city. In the South Bureau, it is up by about 12.7 percent.”
In response to the mayhem, Scott said LAPD is trying to “‘dial back the crimes” by strategically deploying gang intervention and prevention and officers from the Gang, Metropolitan, and Community Relations units.”
The agency also is continuing to partner with community organizations “including the Centinela Youth Services and Project 180 to divert juveniles and drug users from crime,” he added.
“In terms of straight-out police suppression strategies, we initiated the Community Safety Operations Center, a mobile command post,” Scott said. “But we don’t want people to think that we are going back to the old days where we come in force, arresting everything that moves.”
Bernard Dory, an aide to City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, encouraged residents to call his office to discuss plans to replicate the Community Safety Partnership Program, in cooperation with Council Districts 9 and 10. LAPD’s original program, implemented with the Advancement Project in several Watts housing projects, dramatically reduced crime and improved community–police relations there.
Woodyard advised residents to look for more officers on foot in Benny Potter, Loren Miller, Jim Gilliam and Martin Luther King Jr. parks.
But Krishna McCain, a former gang member, commented: “I’m not in the streets anymore and with no disrespect to you … [gangs] don’t hang out in the parks any more. They are like the Taliban — not in plain view like they used to be.”
Scott cautioned that gangs are not the largest source of violent crimes in South L.A.
“Gang crime is about 25-30 percent. Domestic violence equates to about 20-25 percent.”
“Sixty percent of the violence is people taking a stick … or a gun to settle disputes rather than talking, using mediation or other productive means,” he added. “Sixty-eight to 75 percent of the murders in this part of town are firearm-related — year in and year out.”
One resident questioned LAPD’s plans and training to avoid overacting and senseless cop shootings.
In early March, LAPD’s ‘2015 Use of Force Year-End Review’ showed officer-involved shootings increased 60 percent in 2015. The number of such incidents where the suspects were perceived to have mental illness jumped 300 percent. Officers injured in shootings increased 64 percent in 2015.
The L.A. Police Commission voted March 15 to move forward with the creation of use-of-force policies that emphasize de-escalation and the use of minimal force in encounters with the public. The changes … are aimed at emphasizing the need for officers to do what they can to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.”
“We have implemented a whole training module on de-escalation and added 32 officers citywide to the mental health evaluation unit,” Scott said. “Any time a radio call talks about somebody being mentally ill, we dispatch a supervisor who can step back and assess things and keep some oversight over the situation.”
At his mention of Chief Charlie Beck’s push to add 2,500 officers to the force, a resident argued for “intervention and crime prevention.”
Alasia Christopher was vocal about “a rash of home invasion robberies in the Baldwin Vista community … and feeling like I’m a prisoner … in my house. … I shouldn’t have to walk with a gun from room-to-room because of home invasion. That’s my reality. Residents are literally walking around their houses with guns in their hands.”
“They’re kids. … They come at night and in the middle of the day,” Christopher added. “We can’t get an officer to patrol at night. We should not have to feel like hostages in our own home.”
“We are under-staffed,” Scott said. “This is why we have to try to get more officers in the streets and on patrol.”
“What I want you to do is call us, please get involved in the community,” Woodyard told the group. “We want to partner with you to make it safer. If something is out of place, if you know someone is housing guns, call us — anonymously.”
LAPD South Bureau also includes the 77th Street, Harbor, Southeast and South Traffic Divisions. It covers 57.6 square miles and roughly 640,000 people.