In Wild West folklore, the local sheriff would deputize a few hardy men to round up the outlaws and clean up the town.
Today, the goal for residents around Leeward and Westmoreland avenues is the same. Although the Los Angeles Police Department isn't giving badges to citizens, it is calling for civic participation in the fight against crime.
The area around the First Baptist Church has been taken on as a project by the FALCON Narcotics Abatement Unit, a multi-agency task force of the Police Department, the city attorney's office and the Department of Building and Safety.
FALCON, which stands for Focused Attack Linking Community Organizations and Neighborhoods, "targets neighborhoods with serious narcotics and gang problems and does things traditional (police) units can't do," said Sgt. Kirk Albanese, Police Department coordinator for FALCON, which is funded by the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning. Citywide, FALCON has six neighborhood block projects.
In recent years, the Leeward-Westmoreland neighborhood, a mixture of apartment buildings, retirement homes and small businesses, has been plagued by shootings, blatant drug dealing and other crime. "It's been a pretty violent neighborhood," said Kevin Gilligan, a FALCON community organizer.
One critical link in the FALCON strategy is a coalition of apartment owners and managers in the area organized with Gilligan's assistance.
FALCON has been working with the coalition to evict tenants against whom there is evidence of drug dealing, screen and share information on prospective tenants, and enforce building and safety regulations, Albanese said.
In addition, the FALCON unit has mobilized other city agencies to improve street lighting, paint out graffiti and remove abandoned cars, he said.
Owners benefit from working with the police because crime drives tenants away, said Beverly Blank, owner of a building on Leeward Avenue. Several buildings in the area have vacancy rates of nearly 30%, residents said.
The most difficult hurdle for the FALCON unit is organizing residents and getting them to overcome their reluctance to report crimes and provide information to the police, said Mary Clare Molidor, FALCON coordinator for the city attorney's office.
Fear of retribution is a legitimate concern, as is the frustration that citizens feel when information they provide goes nowhere, Molidor acknowledged. But the FALCON unit is set up to make use of anonymous tips, she said. "It takes a few brave souls at first," she said.
Molidor pointed to one instance in which residents and apartment managers helped police identify an alleged drug dealer active in the neighborhood. A search of the man's apartment turned up 47 packets of cocaine, she said.
Since FALCON launched its operation in the neighborhood several months ago, Albanese said, officers have made 19 arrests for narcotics-related activity and seized 243 grams--about 8.5 ounces--of cocaine with an estimated street value of $24,300.
"Things have gotten better since FALCON came," said Art Carlbom, a Leeward Avenue resident. "There aren't as many shootings, and if we see something now, we go inside and then we call (the police)."
Senior Lead Officer Andrew Voge said the next step is to encourage residents to participate in Neighborhood Watch groups, report the identities of drug dealers and note the license plate numbers of cars carrying buyers.
Last week, Voge organized meetings with Spanish- and Korean-language translators for residents of four buildings after a weekend block party, and he has scheduled meetings for four other buildings this week.
Information: Rampart Division Community Relations Office, (213) 485-4080.