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Crime & Justice

Officer Involved: police relations and the tale of 2 neighborhoods

Chris & Pitts restaurant in Downey, where a suspect was shot and killed by deputies after a vehicle pursuit on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Chris & Pitts restaurant in Downey, where a suspect was shot and killed by deputies after a vehicle pursuit on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

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If you do nothing wrong, then you shouldn't be afraid of the police, right?

That was a common sentiment by many to SCPR's reporting in Officer Involved, a project where we examined officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles.

"Only people who are paranoid and subconsciously wish to act suspicious get in trouble with the police," Nathan Lee wrote on NPR's Facebook post on the series. "If you're afraid of the police, you're already a victim of this anti-police movement."

However, some people act the way they do around the police because of past experience.

Good feelings prevail where police shootings rarely happen

Beverly Grove is a neighborhood teaming with families, sidewalk cafes and shops with the latest fashions.

What is doesn't have are many officer-involved shootings, nor negative feelings about the police.

"I don't feel bad or awkward or that they shouldn't be there," said Stephanie Kelley, who was walking through on a recent afternoon. "If they're doing their job, then that's awesome. They're keeping the neighborhood safe."

"I have more of an issue with the traffic citation police than with the normal police at this moment," said Brent Mitzner, who works in the area.

Poor police relations lead to bad feelings in Watts

Watts is a neighborhood 12 miles away from Beverly Grove, but worlds away in how people view the police.

It is one of the hotspots of officer-involved shootings, according to KPCC's data.

"The police here are looking for problems," said Greg Brown. "They aren't attending to problems, they're looking for problems."

Brown grew up in Watts, where he remembers being ticketed at 10 years-old for not stopping at a stop sign while biking.

Now in his mid-20s, he also remembers an incident in front of his home.

"A police officer has drawn on his gun on me while I was in my driveway just to ask what my address was to see if I lived there," he said. "When I see them, I'm angry because of everything I know. And then I'm fearful because I know what they have the power to do."

Paulette Benz also says she fears the police because she says her nephew was shot and killed by officers.

The details have remained unclear to her, but she says he was unarmed and did not have a weapon on him.

"For his body to be riddled with bullets, it just doesn't make sense to me," says Benz. "I've pretty much given up hope on the system."

She says she knows not all officers are bad, but losing a loved one like this made her lose trust.

Ralph Flores, meanwhile, believes that the community in Watts would trust the police more if they reached out more to say hi, not just view them as potential suspects.

"I know when I was growing up in Skid Row, you had police officers that would pull you over and offer you baseball cards," he says. "[My kids], they go 'No way! They give tickets now!"

KPCC wants to hear your own story, and know if an interaction with a police officer changed the way you view law enforcement. Let us know what conversations you're having when you talk about police at home.