Raul Ramirez is a rarity--an 11-year-old who likes to clean.
"On Saturdays and Sundays I always clean my back yard," Ramirez boasted. When he strolls through his Eastsideneighborhood, he frequently gets the urge to pick up trash.
So he's perfect for Operation Sparkle, the Los Angeles Police Department's citywide cleanup effort that will mobilize an estimated 20,000 volunteers in October. Planners hope to remove more than 30 tons of trash and cover graffiti in L.A.'s blighted areas with about 20,000 gallons of paint.
Ramirez and other schoolchildren were on hand Tuesday to scoop up debris along the 6th Street Bridge on the Eastside while members of the LAPD and Mayor Richard Riordan praised the program, which will officially begin on Saturday.
Attacking the dead branches and dust on the side of the bridge, Nick Chavez paused to explain why he was shoveling dirt in the Los Angeles sun. "People are always saying East L.A. is so dirty," said the 18-year-old senior at Salesian High School. "I was born and raised here, and comments like that give a very negative image of East L.A. It makes it look like there's a lot of gang violence, and there's not, but there are a lot of people who want to help make things better, and that's ignored."
Operation Sparkle has been an annual event in the LAPD's Valley Bureau since 1989, but this is the first year it has gone citywide. On the next four Saturdays, Operation Sparkle will hit the neighborhoods in each of the LAPD's four bureaus. They will clean areas in the South Bureau on Oct. 1, the Valley Bureau on Oct. 8, the West Bureau on Oct. 15 and the Central Bureau on Oct. 22. The program will culminate with a family festival at the L.A. Zoo on Oct. 29. For information on participating, call (800) 749-CITY.
"When you have a clean community, it sends a signal that you care," said Police Chief Willie L. Williams, "that you're not going to tolerate nonsense in your neighborhood, you're not going to tolerate crime."
Deputy Police Chief Mark Kroeker, who started Operation Sparkle when he was head of the Valley Bureau, issued a challenge to other cities: "Let's see if you can get as many people out to clean up your neighborhoods as we do in October!"
The operation is funded with $150,000 in grant money from corporations such as Chrysler (which is also offering to provide transportation for volunteers) and the Los Angeles Waste Management Corp. The city is putting an estimated $150,000 of its resources into the effort.