Crime & Justice

Critics: expansion of LAPD Metro teams could hurt community relationships

LAPD patrol cars parked on a city street.
LAPD patrol cars parked on a city street.
Collin Robinson/KPCC

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Some community activists and police critics said Wednesday Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's plan to assign teams of elite officers to target crime in unfamiliar neighborhoods could hurt community policing efforts.

“It could be a good thing, as long as they don’t come out here assuming that everyone they see with saggy pants is a gang member or criminal,” said Kevin Orange with Advocates for Peace and Urban Unity.

During his State of the City speech Tuesday, Garcetti announced plans to double the size of the Metropolitan Division, officers that are not assigned to a particular geography but rather to target crime hotspots.

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck said the LAPD has used Metro officers in the past to saturate high crime areas with patrols.

The move comes amid the first increase in crime in a decade. Violent crime spiked 27 percent and property crimes went up 12 percent during the first three months of this year compared to last year, according to the LAPD.

Creating four platoons of 50 officers each will give the department more flexibility to move officers into crime hot spots, Beck said.
 
“Its important we do this,” Beck told KPCC’s Airtalk program. “We are seeing an uptick in violent crime, particularly gang crime, which is most successfully impacted by this type of strategy.”

“I think this type of ‘hot spot’ policing could end up hurting community policing,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Bibring, an LAPD watchdog.

He said officers in these type of special units often are asked to engage in more aggressive policing.

“If the department says: 'we are going to have an aggressive, proactive presence', they’re going to stop a lot of people,” Bibring said.

A group of Metro officers certainly took an aggressive approach in 2007, when they swept through MacArthur Park during an immigrant rights rally, firing rubber bullets and beating demonstrators and journalist.

The city paid out $12.85 million to settle numerous civil rights lawsuits related to that incident.

But Orange, who works with gang members in South Los Angeles, said increased patrols in some neighborhoods could "calm down" gang members and make them less likely to "do something foolish" - if they're done right.
 
“Some areas need a high presence of police cars driving around - but without initiating a bunch of pat downs” of people on the street, he said.

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice agreed success will depend on the execution.

“It all depends on how they do it,” she said. “The approach must focus on building relationships in the community.”

Metro cops have more experience be more physically fit than most officers, and must have a spotless record, according to Commander Andrew Smith.

Beck said the Metro officers would be under the supervision of local captains. He noted some of the officers will have previously worked in the neighborhoods they are assigned.

The chief acknowledged some lower crime areas of the city may see fewer patrols as a result of the shift.
 
“We hope to make it personnel neutral but in the short term we may have to deplete some of the patrol resources,” Beck said. He said he hopes to hire more officers to “back fill” the patrol positions.
 
The Metro expansion is only part of the mayor's plan, which also includes gathering 40 officers who already do a lot of community relations into a new Community Policing Division.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents the San Fernando Valley, said he supports the idea of placing officers where they are needed “but only if it’s not at the expense of providing adequate deployment in other areas.”

Beck said Wednesday that some lower crime areas of the city may see fewer patrols as a result of the expanded Metro approach.
 
“We hope to make it personnel neutral but in the short term we may have to deplete some of the patrol resources,” Beck said. He said he hopes to hire more officers to “back fill” the patrol positions.

Some of the changes need approval by the City Council, as part of reviewing the mayor's budget. He'll release that next week.

For instance, the mayor’s plan also calls for an additional $5.5 million dollars for the Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office.  It currently receives about $22 million a year, according to Krekorian.
 
“We will evaluate that proposal and weigh it against the cities other priorities," he said.