Koreatown celebration premature

Times Staff Writer

To celebrate what was to have been the inaugural Saturday night of its Koreatown security patrol, the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles held a celebration earlier in the day at its headquarters on Western Avenue.

Members of a Korean folk samulnori band pranced about the flower-bedecked parking lot of the headquarters, beating on drums and gongs. Federation officials showed off a pair of shiny black Hyundai SUVs to be used for the neighborhood patrols, uniforms for volunteers, communications equipment and big decals, proclaiming “Koreatown Security Patrol.”

Many among about 100 attendees praised the federation’s effort to make Koreatown safer by having volunteers begin the effort by patrolling parts of the neighborhood on Friday and Saturday nights.

Less than two hours later, however, board members voted in an emergency meeting to postpone the start of the patrols to an as-yet-undetermined date.

“We decided to postpone to be better prepared,” Chris Moon Key Nam, president of the federation, said after the meeting.


But sources familiar with the project said the delay was prompted by concerns raised by the Los Angeles Police Department about the legality of the patrols, how they might be run and whether publicity about the plans made the LAPD “look bad.”

Initially, the federation planned to have board members with security guard licenses do the patrolling. But the group has sought to expand the pool of possible volunteers by publicizing the project in Korean language newspapers.

Mark Yoon, a vice chairman of the federation who has been working with the LAPD to secure the department’s approval, said the federation has received conflicting signals.

“We are confused and frustrated,” he said.

The federation got approval earlier in the month for the project from one officer, he said.

Jason Lee, a department spokesman, said Friday that Police Chief William J. Bratton thought the private patrol project was “a good thing. He asks them to be our ears and eyes and to call us ... and not to be vigilantes.”

But federation officials said they were told by another LAPD representative Friday that they needed to get an opinion from the city attorney’s office and the state on the legality of the project.

LAPD officials who have dealt with the federation did not return phone calls Saturday.

Many Koreatown residents said they’re afraid to venture out at night.

A series of high-profile slayings in the community over the last year, including the shooting deaths of three people at a Koreatown restaurant-bar in October, have heightened the concern.

LAPD statistics showed that during the first 10 months of this year there was a 40% increase in homicides (from 15 to 21) and an 11% increase in robberies (from 557 to 620) in Koreatown compared with the same period last year. Rapes in the district were up 47% -- from 30 to 44.

Police and community leaders stress that while violent crime is up in Koreatown this year, overall crime is down compared with the mid-1990s, as it is citywide. Assaults declined from 410 incidents during the first 10 months of last year to 340 this year.

Yoon said federation officials would contact the city attorney and state officials Monday. “I hope we can resolve the hurdles as soon as possible and start the patrol,” he said.

At the ceremony Saturday, residents expressed support for the project.

“I think this is a wonderful thing,” said Sun Ok Kang, 70. “I support everything that makes Koreatown safer. I am so afraid, I don’t even dare take my morning walk until after 7.”