Police, Residents Join for Reports on Valley Crime

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a ground-breaking joint effort, Los Angeles police working with San Fernando Valley residents have identified some of the most troubling problems plaguing Valley neighborhoods in a series of unique reports reflecting residents' top crime concerns.

The first State of the Community reports, which are scheduled for release this week, show that prostitution along commercial streets, gangs scaring families at public parks, an increase in the homeless population and endless graffiti are among the problems that upset Valley residents the most.

"Sometimes we don't always hear what's important to the community, but that's what these reports help us do," LAPD Cmdr. Garrett Zimmon said. "At the same time, they tell the community they have to step up to the plate and work with the Police Department."

Officers at each of the city's 18 police divisions began working with Community Police Advisory Boards last year to produce reports that identify problems affecting the quality of life in their neighborhoods and develop strategies to deal with them. The boards are composed of groups of residents who meet monthly with the commanding officer at each police division.

Summaries of the reports released Monday suggest a list of solutions that police and residents in the Valley can work on together, a key element of community-based policing.

At the Van Nuys Division, for example, police hope to work with residents to rally support for and eventually establish organized hiring spots for day laborers, who have drawn complaints for soliciting money, littering and public drinking.

In the West Valley, foot patrols have been established along the Sherman Way corridor in Canoga Park, where criminals prey on the local immigrant population, and along Sherman Way in Reseda, where juveniles have been committing a rash of crimes and may be about to join gangs.

And in North Hollywood, a wall plagued by graffiti at Chandler Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway is the site of efforts to bring residents, North Hollywood High School students and the NoHo arts community together to use artwork, foliage or possibly a paint-resistant coating to protect the wall.

Zimmon, who heads an administrative group that oversees a $379,000 grant sponsored by the National Institute of Justice to implement community-based policing in the LAPD, cited accomplishments such as the realignment of the police divisions, creation of the community advisory boards, a daylong summit held earlier this month for advisory board members, and the drafting of the reports, which may redefine policing in Los Angeles.

Concerns over the homeless and day laborers, for example, illustrate large-scale social woes that police have not traditionally been called on to solve, said LAPD Capt. James McMurray, commanding officer of the Van Nuys Division.

"The question is, where does police work end and where does social work begin?" said McMurray. "The answer is that it's being redefined and community policing is probably the best vehicle to do that."

Summaries of the reports, by police division:

Devonshire

Despite removing more than 98,000 linear feet of it throughout the northwest Valley last year, graffiti vandalism continues to plague neighborhoods, costing residents thousands of dollars a year in an endless battle against taggers, according to the report, which was based on 1,000 surveys completed by residents in the Devonshire Division.

As a result, police and members of the division's community advisory board are studying the possibility of implementing an "Adopt-a-Wall" program that would call on residents to adopt a freeway underpass, check it daily for graffiti and notify police if any appears. Also under consideration is a suggestion to have local schoolchildren paint murals on the underpasses.

West Valley

In addition to establishing a foot beat, a police substation is planned for the Reseda area that will house, among other programs, the West Valley Division's Jeopardy program for youths who appear likely to become gang members.

Residents and police also plan to join forces to increase the size of the tagger task force to identify graffiti vandals and reduce by 20% the number of service calls placed to the division's graffiti hot line. Citizen volunteers will also be used to battle a car-theft and burglary problem in the Sherman Way and De Soto Avenue area.

Foothill

Drug dealers plying their trade at a Pacoima intersection, gangs intimidating residents at a Mission Hills park and graffiti vandals targeting another park in Arleta have prompted officers from the Foothill Division to gather information in those areas.

The intelligence will be used by police to create plans aimed at solving the problems, and residents and business owners will be invited to meet with police at the end of March to discuss the plans.

North Hollywood

Although the number of crimes in North Hollywood parks may be low, the perception that the parks are unsafe remains strong among residents, who complain of a proliferation of vendors, gambling, drinking and drug use. To give residents a feeling of security in the parks, a pilot program will be launched at Whitsett Park in which a concerted effort will be made by local agencies to improve the park's overall conditions.

Police and residents will also join forces in an effort to draw all the businesses in the Studio City area to participate in the Business Watch and Business Alert programs. These programs would allow businesses to better protect themselves against crime, and the membership records would enable police officers to return to patrol sooner after a break-in, instead of spending time trying to locate owners of burglarized businesses.

Van Nuys

Prostitution along the Sepulveda Boulevard corridor has been the source of continuing complaints in Van Nuys, where residents, and owners of motels and other businesses, have been meeting with police to identify problem areas.

To combat prostitution, police plan to maintain a high-visibility patrol that first warns known prostitutes and then arrests and charges them with creating traffic hazards. Officers will also continue to work with city prosecutors to encourage judges to impose "mapping" sentences, which ban convicted prostitutes from performing otherwise lawful acts in certain areas, such as walking or speaking to motorists.

Business owners have also complained that food vendors along Blythe Street scare off residents because of the atmosphere they create--a problem that business owners hope will be solved with the help of two Community Impact Teams, which will implement training for vendors on health regulations, food preparations and city zoning ordinances.

Other concerns listed in the Van Nuys report include an increasing homeless population, whose members intimidate residents and cause traffic problems by begging for money at freeway off-ramps. Ghost towns--clusters of buildings damaged in the Northridge earthquake and taken over by squatters--domestic violence and the need for more activities for youths who might otherwise join gangs were also listed in the report.

"Some of the issues are bigger than the Police Department and to some degree they may be bigger than the community working with the Police Department," McMurray said. "But I think we'll have an impact. . . . Our goal is to make the community better."

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Valley Crime Areas

Los Angeles police have released summary reports of crime problems, as well as solutions for neighborhoods throughout the San Fernando Valley. The reports were drafted by the LAPD in conjunction with their community advisory boards, reflecting residents' concerns as well as crime statistics.

Foothill

1. Intersection of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sutter Avenue: significant drug trafficking.

2. Brand Park between Brand Boulevard and San Fernando Mission Road: gang activity.

3. Paxton Park on the northwest corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Paxton Street, graffiti vandalism and gang activity.

West Valley

4. Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way area: youth invovlved crime. A police footbeat has been established to patrol area and a police substation is planned.

5. Desoto Avenue and Sherman Way area: business and street robberies and auto thefts and burglaries. A police footbeat has been established to patrol area.

North Hollywood

6. Chandler Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway: graffiti vandalism. Efforts will be made to unite the local community, North Hollywood High School and the Noho Arts community to solution such as placing attractive artwork, foliage or a "paint free" coating on the wall.

7. Whitsett Park at Vanowen Street and Whitsett Avenue: one of a number of parks where residents site safety concerns.

Van Nuys

7. The Sepulveda Boulevard Corridor: site of prostitution activity.

Devonshire

9. Graffiti vandalism was cited as the most significant problem plaguing the North West Valley. An Adopt-A-Wall program is being studied for freeway underpasses.

Source: Los Angeles Police Department

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