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L.A. city workers feel unsafe as homeless crisis grows, prompting more LAPD patrols

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The LAPD has increased patrols each morning and afternoon in the Civic Center area after government employees raised concerns about safety entering and leaving work.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

As the homelessness crisis grows in downtown Los Angeles, government employees have told authorities they don’t feel safe entering and leaving buildings and retail shops in the Civic Center area, officials said.

Now, the Los Angeles Police Department has shifted assignments for some officers each morning and late afternoon for several hours to the 20-square-block area to ease concerns about the increased homeless population near office buildings and the L.A. Mall.

“We are currently looking at ensuring that we have dedicated patrols,” Police Chief Michel Moore told The Times. “It is in response to concerns and perception that their safety is increasingly in peril. We want to provide a visible form of our presence.”

The Civic Center is packed with government buildings, monuments, green space and homeless encampments.

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Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said several employees in his office have lodged safety complaints. The LAPD convened a meeting about two weeks ago with representatives from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, the city administrative office and the City Council, Wilcox said.

“It has escalated in the last few months and weeks,” Wilcox said about the complaints.

A spokeswoman for Garcetti said that employees should feel safe in and around the workplace and that concerns will be addressed immediately.

“The mayor has strong confidence in the officers assigned to the Civic Center, who do an outstanding job of providing security and peace of mind to workers and visitors in a very busy part of the city,” press secretary Andrea Garcia said in a statement.

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City Council President Herb Wesson said one of the main responsibilities of an employer is to make sure employees not only are safe but feel safe.

“With increased numbers of people coming to the Civic Center, it’s important to look out for the safety of everyone — from our employees to our visitors to those who live on our streets,” Wesson said.

A homeless man pushes a shopping cart in the intersection of First and Spring streets
A homeless man pushes a shopping cart in the intersection of First and Spring streets.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

LAPD Deputy Chief Peter Zarcone of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, which oversees security services at city facilities, said he could not point to any specific complaints from government employees. But about 20 vacant positions in the LAPD’s Security Services Division have also contributed to the need to shift officers each morning and afternoon, he said.

The city is working to hire the security officers, who are unarmed, but Zarcone said he could not estimate how long it will take to fill the jobs.

Unarmed security officers earn between $41,000 and $60,000 a year, according to job postings. Police officers earn about $71,000 annually once they complete academy training, according to job postings.

In the meantime, for example, officers from the Central Division and the elite Metropolitan Division will spend several hours each week on the assignments because “employees feel threatened,” Zarcone said.

“We need to do foot beats around there,” Zarcone said. “It’s a pretty modest plan. We are doing what we can.”

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On a recent sunny afternoon, the sidewalks in the Civic Center area were quiet. Half a dozen people sat on the tree planters on Main Street outside City Hall. One woman was surrounded by shopping carts stuffed with blankets and clothes. Nearby, a man dozed in his wheelchair.

Stretched out on a black duffel bag, Tim Wilson said he hasn’t seen any violence in the Civic Center. Wilson said he’s lived on the streets around City Hall for a year.

“Someone might come through yelling or something,” but most of the homeless people are quiet, Wilson said. He said he’s made friends with some city employees after they’ve stopped and chatted with him.

Leaving City Hall on Tuesday, city employee Laquan Lovely looked surprised when told that police would be changing their shifts because of concerns about safety in the area. She said she thought police resources might be better used elsewhere.

“They loiter and sleep out here,” Lovely said of the homeless population near the Civic Center. “I don’t think it’s that serious.”

Land-use attorney Mark Armbruster is a regular visitor to City Hall. As he walked out of the building Tuesday, he said that the city can’t ignore “the plight of the homeless.” At the same time, “for our civic pride, it’s nice to have a building that’s presentable and that people can walk into,” he said.

Councilman Joe Buscaino’s staff regularly spends time with homeless people and joins outreach workers when they visit encampments. The staff sometimes organizes encampments and communicates with the homeless as they go through the process of getting housed. The staff has never had a fear of them, said spokesman Branimir Kvartuc.

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