Tag Archives: LAPD

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and What Really Matters

In 2011, I went to the graduation of the Citizens Academy at LAPD. This is a 10-week academy the department offers to the community to familiarize citizens with how officers do their jobs.
      This one was for the LGBTQ community, at the department’s training facility at Elysian Park. Entering, I passed a bust of former Chief Darryl Gates. I took a seat and watched the graduation. The valedictorian was a transgender woman, a student at Cal State Northridge. As she spoke, I was struck by the moment. It was an amazing thing, given all the department had been under the man whose statue stood a couple dozen yards away.
      I remembered that moment when I heard the news that another L.A. police chief, Charlie Beck, had announced his retirement last week.
      The tenure of any chief is complicated, especially in a complicated city like L.A., and crime ebbs and flows from year to year. But it’s important, at moments like these, I think, to reflect on the larger picture.
      The LA Times noted Beck was leaving amid “a stubborn uptick in crime” – four years of crime rising. But truth is, that’s only when you’re marking time as having begun in the last few years. And that’s a very short-sighted view, pampered by the new reality, which is this: Crime in L.A. has fallen dramatically, in some cases to levels not seen since the 1960s.
      We’re now in the eighth year of fewer than 300 killings. As of mid-December, Los Angeles had registered 271 killings in 2017.  For 1967, when the city’s population was a quarter smaller, the city registered 281.
      That’s a stunning feat. Even more so because it takes place in a city with a maelstrom of languages, cultures – from Nigeria and Bangladesh to Korea and Mexico – and neighborhoods, not to mention gaping economic differences, rising homelessness and more.
      Crucial in all this and equally stunning: Gangs have largely stopped the public behavior that did so much to crush working-class neighborhoods. Families in those neighborhoods don’t face the risk to their children they once did. Business owners no longer have massive graffiti to paint over every month.
      Homeowners in black and Latino neighborhoods are now able to unlock the value of their homes – in both sales and home-equity loans – in a way that was impossible a decade ago. Gangs, after all, were always the best rent control.
      In several neighborhoods, it’s now fashionable to put up wood-slat fences. They look great, but when I saw the first one I thought it would be a matter of minutes before it was tagged in some way. I’ve seen those same fences unmarred for months now, years in a couple cases. Those wood-slat fences mark a major change of street culture for Los Angeles.
      Gangs still exist in L.A. and are involved in criminal activity – though I believe they are far smaller in number than before. But their activity is no longer the public stuff — the drive-by shootings, car jackings, taking over a park or apartment complex etc – that so used to blight and create life-threatening danger in the places they called their territory.
 
      A lot went into all these changes and it’s not all due to Beck or even to LAPD alone.
      But the new department is one of the most transformed institutions in California civic life in the last 25 years, as that Citizens Academy graduation made clear. Spend time in any LAPD station watching the officers come and go and you’ll see this very clearly. I think it’s foolish, and short-sighted, to believe that that transformation had nothing to do with the current safe conditions in Los Angeles today. 
 
      Any department faces conflict, drama, willful personalities, and rogue officers. It’s a rough job and we ask police officers to be our marital counselors, mental health professionals, our surrogate fathers and mothers, and a whole lot more, as well as our crime fighters.
 
     All that’s the day-to-day.
      But when a chief announces his retirement, there are more important facts – and a longer view – to consider.

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LA crime stats – Without Context We Are Lost

IMG_9334The latest homicide figures in Los Angeles have set off a shriek-a-thon that is weird and seems to me fed by 24-hour-news culture, which is dangerous because it is utterly devoid of context.

I believe in police accountability, smart deployment of officers and using Big Data to analyze crime trends and respond to them. I also believe it is important to hold elected officials accountable on how city resources are used and deployed.

But as citizens, we too have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We are duty-bound to get a grip, seek context, not start shrieking for shrieking’s sake.

By using only rates of increase, those who talk about this latest “surge” in crime are avoiding context.

And here it is: The city has had 185 homicides in eight-plus months – an average of about 24 a month. It’s unlikely to maintain that pace, as August almost always registers the highest numbers of homicides and adds briefly to the statistical average. But even if it does, the city will still tally fewer or roughly equal to the number of homicides of any year this century.

In fact, the LA homicide figures this year will almost certainly be below any yearly figure since the 1960s.

That is not to say that LAPD doesn’t need to readjust its force deployment. I’m not a police commander, but if one month shows that kind of increase (41 homicides in August), stands to reason it would require a reassessment.

Nor do I say this to play down what it means to have homicides in one’s neighborhood. I’ve covered more homicides than almost any reporter I know, and I understand more deeply than most, I believe, what they do to a family, and to a neighborhood, to a city. So I do not say this to make light of what’s happened in parts of L.A.

But we too have a duty, a responsibility, to remain sane, to appreciate the stunningly positive story of what has happened to crime in Southern California (and gangs above all), to not start shrieking over every little statistical increase.

And above all, to use context. Context. As a journalist, I can say that without it you are lost.

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LAT Op-Ed: Parks, Gang Free, Returned to Owners

An opinion piece of mine is out in the LA Times — this one about the radical changes at Southern California parks.

Parks, by and large, are now free of gang presence. They are, generally speaking, places where families can play and relax without the fear that not so many years ago kept them away.

As I say in the piece, this mostly benefits working-class families who couldn’t use gang-infested parks near where they lived years ago.

This marks a real revolution, I think. Dominating parks was part of how gangs emerged and grew strong in Southern California.

Hope you like the piece.

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Boxer Enriquez, the Mexican Mafia, LAPD – What’s the problem?

There’s been a dust-up recently over a meeting that LAPD investigators held with Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, a former influential member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, in which he explained to them the inner workings of his former crime pals.

The mayor is criticizing the meeting, questioning why it was held. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has called for a review of the decision to hold it.9780061257308_p0_v1_s260x420 LA Police Commission President Steve Soboroff has called for an investigation into the meeting. Soboroff called the meeting a “giant waste of resources” and “very very misconceived.”

I don’t know what happened at that meeting, but if it was anything like the kind of law-enforcement seminar Enriquez has given dozens of times in the past, then Soboroff need to reassess that opinion.

What is the problem here?

Why would you not want a former Mexican Mafia member to be educating police brass on the workings of one of the most influential, and little-known, institutions in Southern California life today?

Boxer has made a second career (behind bars – he’s serving life in prison) of teaching law enforcement about how his old mates work. I’ve interviewed him extensively. That’s what he does, and, an articulate fellow, he does it pretty well.  (He’s co-author, with local TV reporter Chris Blatchford, of the book, The Black Hand, released in 2009.)

Far from being a “giant waste,” this seems to me to be essential work. The Mexican Mafia is one of the most important institutions in Southern California, particularly in communities with large Latino populations and gang problems.

The Eme used to be just a prison gang. But two decades ago, it marshaled the forces of street gang members to tax drug dealers in their areas, and sometimes also fruit vendors, bars, prostitutes and others – and funnel the proceeds to Eme members, their families and associates.

With that, it became Southern California’s first regional organized crime syndicate.

It’s probably less than that description implies, as it’s run by drug addicts locked away in maximum security prisons, who use drug addicts and criminals as their go-betweens. The miscommunication can be monumental. Still, the mafia has changed life in many parts of this region.

In some SoCal towns, its members are more important than the mayor, with enormous impact on town budgets. Its members can create – have created – crime waves with simple orders to associates who pass them along to gangsters on the street. The Eme has been shown to have alliances with Mexican cartels.

Sounds to me like anyone willing shed light on an organization like that ought to be welcome.

By the way, I contend that Enriquez’s decision to drop out while he was in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay in 2001 was a crucial moment in state prison history, as it helped pave the way for the mass defection of gang members in prison.

It wasn’t the only factor pushing that along, but it was important because it showed the Eme’s soldiers and lieutenants that their higher-ups weren’t going stick with the program. Also, two other mafia members – Angel “Stump” Valencia and David “Chino” Delgadillo – quickly followed him into PC, with several others after that, including Boxer’s old Eme buddy, Jacko Padilla, who controlled the Azusa area.

Protective custody in state prison went from a few hundred to, today, tens of thousands of inmates on what are known euphemistically as Sensitive Needs Yards. Many of them are Southern California Latino gang members. All that picked up enormous momentum after Enriquez dropped out.

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Miracle on Drew Street

Today I drove through the Drew Street neighborhood and found an L.A. miracle.

Fabrizio Uzan had purchased a triplex out of foreclosure. When I met him, he was redoing the IMG_1929downstairs unit with new refrigerator and stove, new toilet and bathroom sink and shower, new floors and paint.

His property is at the corner of Drew and Estara – one of the most dangerous gang corners in all of Los Angeles a few years ago.

Uzan lives in Hollywood but thought the area had turned around and bought the property. He is upgrading the unit with a thought to charging $1500 for the one-bedroom, up from $925.

He told me he’s in no hurry to rent it. Rather, he wants a quality tenant. Under the old owner, the previous occupants had squeezed two families into the unit. Those days are over, he hopes.

“Good people won’t pay high rent for a shitty place,” he said. Indeed.

Uzan’s investment in this property marks a stunning moment in the history of Los Angeles, I believe.

From my count, Uzan is one of about eight or ten property owners – new and old, residents and landlords – who appear to be investing in fixing up their units/houses on the once-notorious street. Investing in real estate on Drew was lunacy a few years ago. Not any more, apparently.

There’s still some gang graffiti to be seen in the area. But that doesn’t seem to daunt many urbanIMG_1930 pioneers here. The gunfire and late-night insanity of the round-the-clock drug dealing are gone. No more screeching tires startling people from their sleep at night.

This is one street, and a tiny one at that. But I see the corner of Drew/Estara as a barometer of L.A., one that measures important changes to working-class neighborhoods where gangs dominated (and some still do) across the city.

Which is why I wrote about it in my story that Pacific Standard Magazine put on its cover and called “The End of Gangs.”

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Is This How Gangs End?

I’m very proud of my cover story in the January’s edition of Pacific Standard Magazine about the decline of gang violence and gang presence in Southern California.gangs-illo

I’ve been watching this phenomenon quietly unfold for several years. It amounts to a revolution in criminal behavior in the region that essentially invented the modern street gang, then exported it to much of America.

It’s not necessarily to say that, literally, all gangs have stopped existing, though some have. Rather, it’s to say that their behavior is so much more underground, low-profile, so quiet, that it amounts to about the same thing for many working-class neighborhoods that were besieged by these guys for so long. Some are still active but none is as active as gangs were a decade or two ago.

These were truly street gangs, meaning they took their power, identity and reputation from their streets and how well they “defended” them.

Areas like Drew Street, mentioned in the piece, are now seeing a resurgence that was denied them for many years due to the stifling presence of their local gangs.

Anyway, I hope you like the piece. Daily Beast selected it as one of the Best Longreads of the Week – so that was nice….Let me know what you think, please.

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LOS ANGELES: Grim Sleeper photos on Facebook

The LAPD has put up a Facebook page of photos of  women whom they are trying to identify that were in possession of the suspected serial murderer, Lonnie Franklin, Jr., known in the media as the Grim Sleeper.

Franklin, 60, is charged with 10 counts of murder in the deaths of women — many of them prostitutes and drug addicts, whose corpses were often found dumped in alleyways and Dumpsters in South-Central Los Angeles — between 1976 and 2010, and who is believed to have taken a break of 13 years in between, hence the Grim Sleeper moniker.

Franklin was arrested in 2010 and at the time LAPD made public the photos, found in his possession, of some one hundred women they believed might be his victims. Some photos seemed to be normal snapshots, but others showed women undressing.

Many were identified through public outreach, but some were not. So the FB page is one more attempt to find the identify of women whose photos Franklin possessed when he was arrested.

For years, many Grim Sleeper killings were believed part of other sprees. News of an LAPD investigation into the killings as connected to one man was made public in 2008 by Christine Pelisek in the LA Weekly.

The Grim Sleeper case is fascinating for several reasons. But one of them is that it involves a black man. For decades, serial murderers were almost all white. Think Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer. But the chaos of the crack-epidemic years apparently created black serial killers, who often prayed on street women, and whom DNA technology has only recently allowed police to identify, in LA at least. Franklin is suspected to be one of them. Chester Turner and John Floyd Thomas are others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LOS ANGELES: `Onion Field’ killer dead

Gregory Powell, the last of the two `Onion Field’ killers, has died, to the regret of no one, apparently.

Powell and his accomplice, Jimmy Smith, killed LAPD Officer Ian Campbell in a Central Valley onion field. Campbell’s partner, Karl Hettinger, never truly recovered from the event.

Joseph Wambaugh was then an officer in LAPD and took a leave to write one of the all-time great true crime books about the case. The book was memorable for many things, but mostly, I thought, for its portrayal of Hettinger, who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1994. The book launched Wambaugh’s career as a true-crime writer.

The movie about the case, with James Woods as Powell, was also powerful stuff.

I wrote an obit of Jimmy Smith when he died in 2007, for which I interviewed Wambaugh.

 

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FOR THE RECORD: Gangs and Mexican governors’ races

UCLA criminologists have published a study showing that most gang violence occurs where gang territories meet, and thus are where gangs are most likely to run into each other and be in competition — not, I would say, a surprising conclusion, but interesting to see the school take on the topic, nevertheless.

The authors draw their conclusions from studying LAPD’s Hollenbeck division, 563 gang shootings involving 13 gangs.

Meanwhile, Mexico scholar George Grayson has published an article on the Mexican presidential election and its effect on various Mexican governors’ races. Grayson is always interesting to read. Check it out

 

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LOS ANGELES: Transgenders in jail

Wrote this story off a meeting Thursday night between transgender folks and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and his command staff.

Very interesting meeting, in part because of what didn’t happen. No heated exchanges, no accusations — as has happened often in previous meetings, I was told. The whole thing ended early — this in a meeting between two groups which have historically had many contentious dealings.

LAPD announced new a jail policy and a new officer training on dealing with transgenders on the street.

The comment to the story by DELTA5 is interesting, and well expressed — adding to the complexity of this story, seemed to me.

I think he has a point. The one thing transgender women — men dressing and identifying as women, even to the point of breast/buttock/cheek implants, but not a sex change —  cannot change is their hands. They remain large and do not get smaller with hormone treatments, and thus remain potential weapons in a jail setting.

 

 

 

 

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