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Cleanup in Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

The cops wave over the sleek black Trans Am outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and the young man behind the wheel looks startled.

No wonder. He’s been nabbed for tinted windows and no front license plate -- small stuff for a bustling Saturday night in Hollywood -- and a Los Angeles Police Department patrol officer is writing him a ticket. A second uniformed officer watches his partner’s back, and a third stands guard nearby on the star-studded sidewalk. Two more officers cruise by in souped-up black-and-white scooters bearing the famous LAPD seal.

This looks and feels like a big-deal police dragnet, and the Trans Am driver doesn’t know the half of it.

The five men in blue are among 44 LAPD reserve officers sweeping the Hollywood streets Saturday night, a rare all-civilian squad so large that some neighborhood streets are virtually teeming with uniformed officers -- a rare event for a department with fewer staff officers per capita than most cities in America.

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The special squad includes an attorney, a pilot, a retired school principal and a movie industry executive, all trained at the police academy, sworn, uniformed and armed. The mission: to use high-profile street patrols and citations, such as the one given the Trans Am driver, to ensure a low-crime evening.

“We’re sending a message to people coming into this area, who aren’t necessarily here to enjoy Hollywood. We’re saying, we’re out there with a presence,” said reserve officer J.T. Alpaugh, 38, vice president of a Van Nuys-based helicopter company.

The one-night effort marks the first time in 15 years that the LAPD has deployed a special crime-fighting effort comprised entirely of civilians. Other efforts may follow, officials said last week.

“We’re going to have to see how this works and build on it,” said Capt. William Scott, special assistant to the director of the LAPD Office of Operations, which oversees patrol forces. “I’d love to do it every day. If you as a captain have additional resources in your area, you want to take advantage of it.”

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More than 650 LAPD reserve officers received the same policy academy training as full-time staff officers. They receive only $50 a month and commit to working 16 hours monthly, but some work virtually full-time, officers said.

“There’s not a different standard,” said reserve officer Eric W. Rose, a public affairs consultant. “There’s only one way you get an LAPD badge, and that’s if you go through the academy.”

The officers work at stations across the city, many doing patrols and some serving in specialized units. Alpaugh, for instance, is an officer with the Metropolitan Division’s mounted unit and a tactical flight officer serving on helicopters with the LAPD Air Support Division.

What made the Saturday night effort stand out, however, is that reserve officers joined as a single squad focused on Hollywood. Nearly twice as many officers than expected showed up, as many as might staff a regular shift.

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Alpaugh is working a car patrol, accompanied by Dave Cox, his patrol partner and academy classmate. Cox’s daytime job is as a pastor of a Chatsworth church, and he holds a third-degree black belt in karate. They are longtime friends, Alpaugh said. In just a few weeks, Cox will officiate at Alpaugh’s wedding.

The officers are working “three deep” -- or three in a car -- with reserve officer Travis Kemmer, 29, a fourth-degree black belt who owns a West Hills karate studio.

At 10 p.m. on glitzy Hollywood Boulevard, this knot of reserve officers is scrutinizing partygoers, moviegoers, panhandlers and those pesky cars missing front plates.

As they finish the Trans Am paperwork, Rose strides by with news of another traffic stop. He just finished “backing up” officers who pulled over a Chrysler 300 that ran a red light on Hollywood Boulevard.

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The car’s interior was bedecked with multiple television screens and other expensive custom toys. The driver lacked a valid driver’s license and had $60,000 in outstanding warrants. The officers cited him and impounded the car.

“Good work!” a colleague exclaimed.

Tour books call this area the heart of Hollywood.

Cops call it The Box. They know that the bright lights and fun-seeking crowds mask a different kind of street scene, one of luxury car arsons, gang fights, club melees, ripped-off car navigation systems, deadly drunk-driving smashups. Crime has increased there in the past few months, making it a focus of police attention.

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For nearly five hours, reserve officers flooded the grid of streets bounded by Hollywood and Sunset boulevards to the north and south and Vine Street to the east.

At the reserve unit’s 5 p.m. roll call at the Hollywood Community Police Station, the commanding officers had heartily thanked them for joining the crime suppression team, then warned of potential hot spots ahead.

Asian gang members may be convening at one popular Hollywood club, says Capt. Beatrice Girmala, who heads up Hollywood patrols. Firearms have been showing up on Hollywood streets in the past few days. Smashed car windows and thefts are surging along several residential streets.

After being dismissed, reserve officers head for the cars.

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John Engels of Northridge prefers an LAPD pickup. He’ll be looking for unlicensed hot dog vendors and may have to impound some carts, he explained. In the past, he has found carts swarming with cockroaches and other unsafe conditions. A successful financial officer, Engels said that rather than play golf or take on another hobby, he wanted to give back to the community.

“I can’t get enough of it. It’s so fascinating to watch this part of Hollywood,” he said. Even working the front desk intrigues him. “It’s better than the Jerry Springer show. You’ll get actresses coming in on a Saturday night. Models. Show people.”

Back at the station for the 11 p.m. debriefing, officers grin when they hear the tallies for the night.

They have given out 25 moving violations and 18 parking citations, impounded three vehicles and three hot dog carts, and made one arrest.

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Some officers said that as the night went on, the pace of radio calls slackened. They could be right. Final numbers won’t be in for a few days, but Girmala was smiling as she thanked the team.

“I guarantee you, it will be very surprising,” she said. “If you weren’t here, that call load would have been a lot different.” Already, she and other Hollywood Division supervisors were talking about the next time. “You guys be here,” Girmala said, “and I’ll have barbecue for you.”

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deborah.schoch@latimes.com

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