Reform Plan: LAPD in Role of Good Cop

So far, Chief Daryl F. Gates has made himself the star of the June 2 election on Los Angeles police reform, playing the roles of good cop and bad cop.

You're familiar with that game. First the mean cop frightens the suspect. Then his kindly partner comes in with a smile and cup of coffee and gets the confession. Gates does that with his opponents who support the reforms. He mixes lacerating attacks with smiling appeals to the voters.

But there's much more to this election than watching the chief's somewhat schizo performance. A larger issue, tied up in the fate of the reform proposal, is whether the LAPD itself will take on the good cop role by adopting a style of law enforcement known as community policing.

The Police Commission already has ordered such a program to begin and Gates has taken personal charge of implementing it. But if the reform measures pass, a revamped police command is expected to give community policing a much higher priority than it had under Gates.

Community policing is a simple, common-sense idea: A cop works with civilians, listening to them rather than confronting them in the grim-faced manner of someone who got up on the wrong side of bed.

Actually, the Los Angeles Police Department has been engaged in community policing in various forms for almost a quarter of a century, although not nearly to the extent advocated by the Christopher Commission.

Looking at community policing efforts in Northeast Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley during the last few weeks, I discovered they come in many imaginative forms, not all of them gentle.

Downright rough, in fact, describes part of a program run by Officer Frank DiPaola of the Northeast Division, where police go up against veteran gangs in the old barrio across the Los Angeles River from the Union Station railroad yard.

DiPaola and Officers Dominick Colenzo and Sergio Ruedes bring taggers--young graffiti vandals--and other youthful petty criminals together with mean-looking parolees and convicts in weekly confrontations in the old Lincoln Heights jail. The cons, recruited from a nearby halfway house, slam the cell doors on the boys and curse them in an attempt to give them a brief taste of state prison life.

Parolee Michael Martinez, a former Hollywood and MacArthur Park rock cocaine dealer, and other state prison vets went from cell to cell, screaming and banging the steel doors. After an hour of head-splitting noise, the boys were ordered out.

One of them was a skinhead, a white teen-age racist. The cons told him to hold hands with the boy next to him, who was black. The skinhead couldn't bring himself to do it. A con cursed him and repeated the order: "Hold his hand." Slowly, as if it were a great physical effort costing him immense pain, the skinhead obeyed. Then the two were forced to walk hand in hand into the yard.

Once in the yard, the cops and cons eased up. They divided the boys into small groups and talked to them for an hour about staying out of jail. "We're trying to get these kids to identify with cops, with good people," said DiPaola, a 17-year LAPD veteran who has worked as a homicide detective, an undercover narcotics officer and patrolman. "The city's getting to be a mess. If we don't do anything, we're lost."

There's another form of community policing, based on a model conceived in 1970 by then-Police Chief Ed Davis.

He created the basic car plan. Teams of officers were made responsible for relatively small areas. The team was headed by a senior lead officer who in effect was police chief for the area. Team members knew every apartment manager, merchant, school principal and many of the residents in their territory. The team organized Neighborhood Watch clubs.

The Neighborhood Watch block clubs were especially successful in heavily African-American neighborhoods in South L.A., becoming a great source of Police Department support. In the '70s and early '80s, ballot measures to increase police benefits or give them better equipment consistently carried South L.A., and the block clubs got out the vote.

In some places, every block had a club, presided over by dedicated homeowners on a first-name basis with their local cop.

Under Chief Gates, the basic car plan dwindled, but managed to survive. Many cops had become converts. While Gates made headlines with tough talk, senior lead officers around the city continued to quietly play the good cop role.

On Friday, I'll introduce you to a couple of them, Senior Lead Officers John Girard and Stephanie Tisdale of the San Fernando Valley. You'll be hearing a lot about cops like them if community policing is expanded.

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