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Garcetti, LAPD announce expansion of Community Safety Partnership program

Harvard Park is equipped with a swimming pool, a playground, an obstacle course, a baseball field and tennis courts.

It is also located in one of the most violent parts of South Los Angeles. In the past year, there have been four shooting deaths on the park's perimeter. The latest victim was Brandon Tatum, 23, who was fatally shot Jan. 11 while walking home from the market.

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On Friday, city officials announced a community policing program that will place 11 police officers in Harvard Park and the surrounding neighborhood. The officers, who will commit to the assignment for five years, will work with residents to develop youth programs, beautify the neighborhood and help with job training, counseling and other needs.

The program is an extension of the LAPD's Community Safety Partnership, which began in the Jordan Downs public housing development in 2011 and soon expanded to Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Ramona Gardens.

It will be the first Community Safety Partnership in a neighborhood rather than a housing development. It is also the first Community Safety Partnership to be privately funded. The Ballmer Group, founded by Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, will contribute $750,000 over three years.

Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke at a news conference at the park Friday as children romped on the playground behind him. He called the Community Safety Partnership the "jewel in the crown" of a larger strategy to fight crime in Los Angeles, which has increased the last three years after decades of decline.

"In Harvard Park, we're going to make sure that police officers aren't just visitors — they are part of the community, they build deep relationships, they become mentors to our young people, they coach sports leagues," Garcetti said.

Garcetti, who is up for reelection on Tuesday's ballot, also announced a goal of taking 20,000 guns off the streets in the next five years. He said the Los Angeles Police Department will hire more civilian employees and shift some of its more than 9,000 sworn officers from desk jobs to street patrol.

The LAPD will draw from its existing ranks rather than hiring additional officers for the Harvard Park program. The money from the Ballmer Group will go toward extra pay for the officers as well as the cost of programs such as football leagues and Girl Scout troops.

Funding will also come from the Weingart Foundation to launch the program with three months of soliciting input from residents.

In Jordan Downs, LAPD officials credit the community policing efforts for a three-year stretch without a homicide.

Because of the relationships between police officers and residents fostered by the partnership program, the clearance rate for homicides in the housing developments served by the program was 81%, said Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Beck said that when he worked the area years ago, fewer than 50% of homicides were solved, because people were afraid of gang members and did not trust the police.

People in South L.A. "may believe public spaces are not theirs to use," Beck said. "CSP has demonstrated in the toughest housing developments in the city of Los Angeles that it can do just that — it can restore public spaces."

City officials had Harvard Park in mind for a Community Safety Partnership since a spate of gang violence hit South L.A. in the summer of 2015.

Three homicides and about a half dozen other shootings occurred "while people are playing soccer and families are in Little League and folks are using the water slide at the pool and the skate park," said City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the area.

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After the mayor and his entourage departed, Alonzo Lopez watched his 3-year-old sister play in the park.

He said police officers often stop him and pat him down for no reason. But he said the Community Safety Partnership is a good idea.

"The only reason people are scared of cops is because they're not more involved with people — they just do their jobs," said Lopez, 23, a funeral arranger. "If they're going to be more friendly and more known to everyone, that helps everyone."

Nicole Tatum, the mother of shooting victim Brandon Tatum, said she is not sure if the program will help. She wants to move out of the neighborhood.

Her son had just gotten a job as a cashier at Wal-Mart. Police do not believe he was a gang member.

"It's like on every corner, somebody has been killed," Tatum said. "I'm just upset that my son got caught up in whatever's going on."

Times staff writer Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.

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