Concrete Assistance : LAPD: Merchants hope new police foot patrols will spruce up image of downtown Reseda’s business district and encourage residents to shop there again.


Downtown Reseda--home to discount prices, plentiful parking and a vibrant ethnic marketplace--has a new attraction: cops walking beats, as they did decades ago.

Since mid-November, Los Angeles police officers have been patrolling the business district on foot in an effort to polish the neighborhood’s image during the busy holiday shopping season and perhaps beyond it.

But the foot patrols are more than simply an increased police presence. They’re just one step in what local business leaders hope will be a multi-pronged effort to revive the Reseda business district, an effort begun several months ago.


The foot beat--similar to those established from time to time in other neighborhoods--runs along Reseda Boulevard between Saticoy and Vanowen streets and on Sherman Way between Crebs and Lindley avenues.

Community leaders, local merchants and police share the belief that the reassuring appearance of officers walking a beat is the first step toward changing what they describe as a distorted public perception that the area is plagued by crime.

“We’re trying to clean up the business district so that people will shop in Reseda again,” said LAPD Officer Stephanie Tisdale, who patrols Reseda as a senior lead officer. “People are driving by and not stopping because it looks like a scary place to shop.”

In reality, Tisdale said, the neighborhood has only an average crime rate and fewer crimes are reported in downtown Reseda than the Ventura Boulevard area in the West Valley, which is popular with shoppers.

Reseda’s tainted image appears to stem from its dowdy appearance. Damaged by the Northridge temblor, cluttered by trash and tacky signs and criticized for its desolate sidewalks and boarded-up buildings, it is a community that in recent years has acquired an off-putting face.

But all that may be changing as in the effort to revive the local shopping area. Merchants formed an association in September and have already organized plans to place 20 garbage cans outside of businesses and hang more than 200 colorful banners advertising local shops, said Margaret Howard, secretary of the Reseda Merchants Assn., which boasts a membership of about 60.


Possibly the biggest development: a police substation.

The substation, scheduled to open as soon as the department can find a location for it, will house a community relations officer, the West Valley Division’s Jeopardy program for youths at risk for becoming gang members and the newly formed Gray Squad, tailored to meet the needs of the elderly, Sgt. Walt Kainz said.

The West Valley Division’s PALS club, a civilian booster organization, has offered to cover $2,500 a month rent for three years, Tisdale and Kainz said.

In the meantime, trying to spruce up Reseda’s image with the foot patrols has produced its own obstacles for police in a community where 27 ethnic groups speak a mind-boggling 67 dialects, ranging from Spanish to Farsi, according to census figures.

The sudden appearance of police officers walking the streets, for example, apparently surprised some merchants, many of whom come from countries where the cop on the beat routinely gets a payoff, Tisdale said.

“We felt they may not be trusting us,” Tisdale said. “Our first goal was to get the businesses involved and to get them to understand that the Police Department really wanted to help.”

But it became apparent Wednesday that Tisdale and her partner, Officer Mark Pryor, had won over many business owners who greeted them as they stopped by their shops while walking their beat.


“It kind of reminds me of the old days,” said Dennis Black, owner of Linda Rae’s, a secondhand store on Reseda Boulevard. “Their appearance, especially around the holidays, is always nice.”

Howard even hung a sign on the front door of her family business, Reseda Rubber Stamp, that reads: “Thank You West Valley LAPD for Footbeat.”

“I’ve walked foot beats in Watts and the southwest area before, but I’ve never had a response like this, where they actually come out of their shops to say hello,” Pryor said.

If local merchants feel safer they may be more inclined to open their front doors, which often remain closed. Many of the shops are now oriented toward the rear parking lots, Pryor said. The string of locked front doors, creating what appears to be a shopper’s ghost town, is one factor that gives the neighborhood a grim aspect.

Supporters of the foot beat are also hoping to foster an improved sense of security among residents so that they will choose to shop in Reseda, as throngs did decades ago.

“We want to bring back the quality of the community feeling it had 40 years ago,” said Nancy McMillan, president of the merchants association.


Many of the recent improvements evolved from a two-day workshop that Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick held in June to help turn around failing commercial areas in her west San Fernando Valley district. Architects, urban planners, landscapers and finance experts joined residents and merchants in devising simple ways to improve their communities.

“It’s little things,” said Rayna Gabin, a field deputy for Chick. “But it’s all these little things that will make it better.”

Much remains to be done.

Tisdale openly expressed her frustration Tuesday night at a business watch meeting attended by only about two dozen merchants, although she and Pryor had distributed more than 250 flyers advertising the meeting. Several merchants suggested that the low turnout could be partially explained by the fact that many immigrant business owners do not understand English--a theory Tisdale doubted. The shop owners seem to understand her when she drops by their stores, and many native English-speaking merchants also failed to appear at the meeting, she said.

Whether the foot patrol will continue into the next year remains to be seen and could depend on getting all the merchants involved in the business watch and the newly formed merchants’ association, Tisdale said. For now, the program is scheduled to remain in place at least through the holidays.

During the meeting Tuesday, Tisdale said she plans to ask her supervisor, LAPD Capt. Val Paniccia, to extend the foot patrol for an additional four months, beginning in January, but possibly with reduced hours. It currently costs $15,000 a month in overtime to staff the foot beat with two officers from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week.

“We have a long way to go,” Tisdale said. But if police can succeed in organizing Neighborhood Watch and other community-based programs in residential neighborhoods, “why can’t we do it with the businesses?”