Highland Park gentrification: Police add foot patrols, but some say they're in the wrong place

LAPD officers walk along North Figueroa Street in Highland Park. The new foot patrols, along a rapidly gentrifying stretch of Figueroa between Avenues 50 and 60, began about a month ago.
LAPD officers walk along North Figueroa Street in Highland Park. The new foot patrols, along a rapidly gentrifying stretch of Figueroa between Avenues 50 and 60, began about a month ago.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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Three L.A. policemen walked their beat Wednesday afternoon down North Figueroa Street in Highland Park. They passed a mix of old and new businesses, from an old-school Salvadoran pupuseria to a new, upscale fitness studio.

“Here along Figueroa, we’re focusing primarily on the businesses and maintaining relationships with them," said Officer J.C. Duarte, one of the three. "We're also monitoring for gang activity, drunk in public - any of the calls that would normally go out that patrol would handle."

The new foot patrols on Figueroa began about a month ago. The officers walk the stretch between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60, a commercial corridor that's the epicenter of Highland Park’s latest wave of gentrification.

It's a strip that once catered mostly to Latinos, with traditional restaurants and mom-and-pop stores. Now there are a growing number of galleries, yoga and fitness studios, upscale restaurants and shops catering to the area's newer residents, many of them young, non-Latino whites.

The decision to put police resources in that particular part of Highland Park has some locals unhappy. Earlier this year, in a less-glitzy residential area to the west, there were more than two dozen gang shootings in two months time.

Miguel Ramos is a longtime resident and community activist. He wonders why the new foot patrols weren't sent there instead.

"I think it goes hand in hand with issues of gentrification," Ramos said. "Especially with the new businesses coming around. There’s no point to putting them on the main corridor,  because none of these shootings are happening on the main corridor.” 

Business owners in the area say that Figueroa strip is relatively safe. Dennis Hernandez, who co-owns Antigua Bread, opened shop there eight years ago.

"As far as I can tell, it's a lot safer already than what it issued to be," Hernandez said.

The foot patrol discussion began a while ago, said Monica Alcaraz, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, which is one of nearly 100 local councils that work with the city of L.A.

Alcaraz said Highland Park residents were worried about gang violence in the area surrounding Monte Vista Street, to the west of Figueroa. They were also concerned about public drunkenness and other issues on York, a strip that's already gentrified and drawn new bars.

The neighborhood council initially asked the police for foot patrols in several areas, she said - including North Figueroa, a high-traffic area. A pedestrian was killed there last month by a hit-and-run driver.

“Ideally for me, we need to have them on Figueroa, on Monte Vista, and on York," Alcaraz said. "I think that it'll happen. It's kind of a work in progress." 

She said the council is still working with police to come up with a workable plan. Officer Duarte said there could be more foot patrols in the future as officers become available.