L.A. Studies Using Former Library in Wilmington as Office for Police
Los Angeles city officials, prompted by Wilmington residents, are considering a proposal to convert the former Wilmington Public Library into an “unmanned” police substation.
The substation, which would not be open to the public, would be a place for officers to write reports, make telephone calls and conduct investigations--tasks that are now performed at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division in San Pedro.
Community leaders say the substation would afford them greater police protection by keeping officers in Wilmington to do their paper work.
And, they say, it might also serve a secondary purpose by enabling the Wilmington Historical Society, which wanted to move into the former library but could not afford the upkeep, to establish its archives there while the city picks up the tab for maintenance.
Although the substation proposal is still in its infancy, Los Angeles police officials say they are seriously considering it. Capt. Joseph De Ladurantey, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Harbor Division, toured the building Wednesday afternoon with Susan Pritchard, Wilmington deputy to Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.
In an interview Tuesday, De Ladurantey said he is enthusiastic about the substation idea and intends to make it “one of our first priorities” when his division is assigned additional officers under the LAPD’s 500-officer expansion program. A Wilmington substation, he said, could save his patrolmen more than an hour of travel time each day.
“We’re after a place where they (officers) can be visible, where they can do their reports rather than having to come back home, so to speak, every time you need to take care of something,” said De Ladurantey, who took over as commanding officer four months ago.
Karen Constine, a spokeswoman for Flores, said the councilwoman also likes the idea but cautioned that there are numerous details to be ironed out before anyone--be it the historical society, the Police Department or some other group--can occupy the former library building on Opp Street.
The Spanish-style building, built in 1927, has been vacant since September, when the new Wilmington Public Library opened on Avalon Boulevard. Though architecturally significant--it has been designated as a cultural and historic landmark--the 62-year-old former library building has no off-street parking and also does not meet city building standards for handicapped access.
The Los Angeles City Council has designated $50,000 to upgrade the building--a sum that may not be enough to complete the necessary work, according to Constine. She said the city’s Bureau of Engineering has been asked to develop a plan to bring the building up to city code.
When the library became vacant last year, the city’s plan was to renovate it and find a tenant who would pay to maintain it. A citizens advisory committee had recommended that the fledgling Wilmington Historical Society have first option on the building.
But the nonprofit historical society could afford neither the estimated $20,000 in annual maintenance nor the cost of liability insurance, which the city requires when private groups use city property. Pritchard said no one else has expressed interest in the building.
Should a city agency, such as the LAPD, occupy and maintain the old library, it is possible the historical society could use a portion of the building. Society President Phil Peterson said he believes that finding an arm of city government to use the building is “the key to any access by the historical society.”
But whether the Police Department would have to pay for maintenance or insurance and whether the historical society could use the building if the Police Department moved in, is still unclear. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘ands,’ ” Pritchard said.
Said Constine: “There’s still a ways to go before the fate of that building is decided.”
The concept of an unmanned substation is not new to the harbor area. One is about to open in Harbor Gateway; De Ladurantey said that office, on Vermont Avenue, will go into use as soon as a phone line is installed there.
The Wilmington substation idea was proposed by resident Bill Schwab at last Thursday’s meeting of the Wilmington Home Owners, which featured Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates as the guest speaker.
“We should have a little more security down here,” explained Schwab in an interview this week.
Gates promised to look into the idea, and assigned De Ladurantey to do so.
“It kind of caught us a little bit by surprise,” De Ladurantey later acknowledged. But, he added, “I think as our department grows, with the increase in the number of personnel, (an unmanned substation) is a luxury that I think the community deserves.”
De Ladurantey said he is hoping the Harbor Division, which covers Wilmington, San Pedro, Harbor City and the southern half of Harbor Gateway, will be assigned between 25 and 30 additional officers over the next year.
He said it is difficult to predict how that will translate into increased police coverage for Wilmington, which is currently patrolled by a minimum of two cruisers and an officer walking a beat, in addition to other special units that roam throughout the harbor area.
But, he added, an unmanned substation will “make good sense” when there are more police officers assigned to Wilmington.
In addition, he said he intends to explore the possibility of staffing the station with community volunteers, even if only for a few hours a day, so that residents could go there to file police reports.