Every Wednesday promptly at 1:30 p.m., 50 or more cops and some civilian staffers assemble in the meeting room at the Glendale Police Department for the fastest 60 minutes in crime-fighting.
They call it the “Week in Crime.”
A glimpse inside what Glendale police are doing with high-tech computers in every car, software that connects them to every database, video surveillance systems on the streets and increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques gives a civilian the feeling he has entered a world that resembles crime-of-the-week TV shows like NCIS.
The weekly meeting is a key element in the department’s strategy to go beyond reacting when incidents occur. These days, the city’s police seek to proactively suppress crime, even predict where and when it will occur so they can be there waiting when it happens.
In the last two years, Chief Ron De Pompa has expanded the “Week in Crime” meetings from a few top commanders to include everyone in the department, often as much as 25% of the force. The goal is to get everyone on the same page and to share their knowledge and skills as they review the who, what, when, where and why of every reported crime in the city — all pinpointed on a giant screen, analyzed for patterns, examined for the modus operandi.
On this day, the problem of theft from work vans is the top item, a problem that is getting worse as the release of about 2,000 convicts into L.A. County every month from state prisons has started — half on parole, half to jails that are so overcrowded that other inmates are being set free early to make room for them.
Pointing to a cluster of break-ins where tools and even heavy equipment is being stolen from vans, a crime analyst points to graphics showing when the thefts occurred and how they are concentrated on weekends from midnight to 6 a.m.
“They’re good at it … blending in unnoticed. No one hears or sees anything,” he notes, based on reviewing all the reports.
Home burglaries are a problem too, but the pattern is very different. They peak in mid-week in the afternoons, when residents are at work.
“They seem to be young and inexperienced,” he suggests, speaking of the burglars, noting trash from ice cream and drinks left behind and how they are only taking small items like jewelry that they can stash in pockets.
Dots for drug arrests and for residences of parolees are superimposed on the map of crimes, showing the clusters sometimes match, suggesting who the probable suspects are.
The liveliest discussion occurs with a report on the activities of gang members who loiter in a park and are engaged in tagging and drug dealing, using an apartment as their base.
Residents of the area were so concerned that 120 people showed up to a town hall meeting, including two young gangsters and an older woman. They were quickly escorted out, but many of the people were scared to speak openly and honestly.
One officer says the residents were threatened with retaliation if they spoke up. An officer from East Command says one of his officers posted on the police blog a description of what seemed like the same woman, saying she was a suspected drug dealer.
A narcotics officer reports that the gang was ordered by cohorts in state prison to “hold down the park” where they hang out. A special detail is being assigned to deal with the problem.
“Give it top priority,” De Pompa says. “We’re not going to tolerate this.”
He follows up at the end of the meeting by focusing on Gov. Jerry Brown’s “tremendously flawed policy” policy of “realignment,” under which thousands of prisoners are being released by the state or sent to county jails.
It should be noted that a federal judge has ordered that California’s prison population be reduced because of overcrowding. But the order did not say how the reduction was to be accomplished. Brown’s “realignment” policy is a result of that court order.
There are 287 parolees in Glendale already, and more parolees in the tri-city area than cops, with few of them under supervised probation.
“For the gangs, this is very empowering and we are a very attractive target,” De Pompa tells the troops. ”We need to rethink the game here.”
There is something about all this kind of predictive community policing that is reminiscent of the days when cops walked a beat, knew everybody in the neighborhood and kept a close eye on the troublemakers.
Today, with powerful technology, video cameras in more and more public spaces and smart techniques, the cops are watching all of us in the name of security and crime suppression.
It’s working, as the decade-long decline in crime shows. But it’s worth thinking sometimes about who is watching the watchers.
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.