It has been hailed as the most promising way to defuse the longstanding tension between South-Central residents and the Los Angeles Police Department, but the new community-based policing program is getting a chilly reception from at least one area group.
At a recent meeting of Action for Grassroots Empowerment & Neighborhood Development Alternatives (AGENDA), about 30 block clubs discussed their concerns about the program, which, they say, has yet to outline the roles of existing organizations.
"Many of the people here don't even know what is going on with the plan," said Anthony Thigpenn, AGENDA chairman, at the meeting of block club presidents.
"If you are going to really have community-based policing, it has to be community driven. They have to identify the problems in the neighborhoods, deployment patterns and what type of tactics will be used."
AGENDA began meeting with block clubs this year after Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker of the South Bureau unveiled an area community-based policing plan that includes a drive to recruit residents to serve on advisory boards.
AGENDA's meetings are intended to inform residents, many of whom know little about the plan, Thigpenn said.
"Our membership is confused because they don't know what Deputy Chief Kroeker is asking for," said Jeannette Hughes, president of the 91st, 92nd and 93rd street block clubs.
"The most important thing is for him to come in and join us. He needs to talk to us in the community. You don't just come in and throw out ideas about what we are supposed to do."
Kroeker said he has been meeting with residents and is seeking input from the community, but acknowledges some will feel left out. "In order to get every block captain's voice heard you are asking a lot, and forming a consensus is difficult," he said. "What I suggest to people is . . . they say 'Why don't we get a community meeting with the senior lead officer going and work things out at that level and talk about the specifics on that street?' " Efforts to start community-based policing began in 1992, following recommendations by the Christopher Commission. The commission investigated the Police Department after the Rodney G. King beating.
Since the commission's report, a debate over how to include residents in the fight against crime has ensued. In January, Kroeker unveiled his plan for the South Bureau, which included a two-pronged approach to recruit as many as 5,000 residents who will form advisory boards to work with area stations, and designate senior lead officers as liaisons to the community.
But to many residents who say they've been on the front line of neighborhood crime prevention, the plan falls short.
Hughes and David Gutierrez, president of the Budlong Avenue Block Club, remain skeptical about the Police Department's commitment to include residents in the decision-making process.
"We believe representatives for these police advisory boards should be elected from the community," said Gutierrez. "We don't think this is happening. I attended the AGENDA meeting and it seems that in other (stations) police are the ones selecting people they want to be on (the boards)."
Police counter such criticism by pointing to a recruitment drive that has so far enlisted hundreds of residents. Residents who will serve on the police advisory boards are likely to come from the recruitment drive.
"I know that things are changing out there, and I'd point to the massive number of block captains that have been recruited," said Kroeker, adding that in addition to 600 block captains, another 140 community representatives have also signed on. "But, I'm like the Maytag repairman in that I don't get phone calls saying, 'I haven't been included,' or 'I'm excluded.' "
Police and residents acknowledge part of the problem may be this year's rash of promotions that resulted in many new senior lead officers who are now only beginning to contact block clubs. The South Bureau is expected to have 31 senior lead officers when the plan is in full operation later this year, said Kroeker.
The plan's supporters say concern over block clubs' roles is shortsighted.
"The pre-existing roles of block clubs is not what we're talking about," said Cassandra Clark, a member of the 77th Street Station Advisory Board and a member of the Van Ness Avenue Block Club. "We're talking about change because now things start with the community. There is no exclusion of block clubs, but a restructuring out here." On one point police and AGENDA do agree: Community-based policing should not be viewed as a panacea for the economic and social problems facing inner-city neighborhoods.