By the end of this month, Los Angeles police officials hope to have completed a dramatic expansion of Neighborhood Watch programs in the San Fernando Valley that is being called the city’s most far-reaching experiment in community-based policing.
Spurred by the controversy surrounding the videotaped beating in March of Rodney G. King in Lake View Terrace, Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker has reassigned 31 senior lead officers to full-time community-liaison duty. He is also overseeing the recruitment and training of 335 unpaid “community representatives,” who assist police and work with more than 1,000 block captains in their neighborhoods.
“By Jan. 1, we will have all 335 representatives named,” Kroeker said. “From there we plan to expand our Neighborhood Watch so that we have a block captain assigned to every block of the Valley.”
The department is still recruiting the block captains, whose job it is to update the community representatives on conditions in their neighborhoods.
The program aims to address deficiencies in the Police Department that were detailed in the Christopher Commission report, which, among other things, urged police to spend more time communicating with residents.
The department’s combative philosophy has created ill will in many Los Angeles communities, the report found.
“We want everyone to see police as their partners, to see the officer as someone who wants to help,” Kroeker said. “We want people to see that underneath that nameplate, underneath that shirt, there is a person who is not that much different from you.”
Since May, the officers have spent most of their time in community relations duty in 31 reporting districts, the police equivalent of a census tract, from the hills of Chatsworth to the flatlands of Pacoima.
Previously, officers spent a handful of hours each month in such work. Many now say they are enthusiastic about spending more time with residents.
“It’s a recognition from the very top that we need to get the community involved,” said John Girard, a field officer in the Devonshire Division who has worked with Neighborhood Watch groups for several years.
Officers have also embraced the new program as a tool for repairing the department’s tarnished image.
“It’s a healing process. People in the community needed to see an open line of communication,” said Officer Stephanie Payne, who since July has been assigned to the Lake View Terrace area. “Community policing has been a morale booster for both officers and residents.”
“We need this program. There’s a lot of good people against us,” said Officer Tim Bergstrom, who has been assigned to the same Van Nuys neighborhood for 10 years.
“With this program, we’ll show them we’re on their side.”
Beginning today, The Times will publish a map series of the 31 areas involved in the program.
THE PROGRAM: The Los Angeles Police Department has assigned 31 officers to full-time community relations duty in the San Fernando Valley. The officers, who in the past spent only a few hours a month on such duty, now work full-time with neighborhood organizations and individuals. One of the 31 areas is described below:
North Hollywood, Valley Village
THE OFFICER: Edward Brentlinger, North Hollywood Division, (818) 989-8838
THE AREA: Brentlinger patrols a mostly residential beat, with some commercial areas, which includes North Hollywood High School and Laurel Plaza mall. “The major crimes are burglaries from vehicles and stolen cars,” he says, adding that, on average, about 40 cars are broken into or stolen each week.