1997 Finalist of The Webber Seavey Award
1997 Finalist ofThe Webber Seavey Award
for Quality in Law Enforcement
&1997 Finalist of
The Herman Goldstein Award for Problem-Oriented Policing
Project Contact: Antoinette Vasquez
Los Angeles Police Department
Management Services Division
Community Policing Unit
150 North Los Angeles Street-Room 724
Los Angeles, CA 90012
In November 1995, Newton Area of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the elite Focused Attack Linking Community Organizations and Neighborhoods (FALCON) multi-agency Narcotics Abatement Unit launched a collaborative effort, known as the "Hooper Block Project," with community members in the project area.
The FALCON Narcotics Abatement Unit is a federally funded grant program under the direction of the LAPD. The unit comprises personnel from the Department, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, and the Los Angeles City Department of Building and Safety. The FALCON unit utilizes innovative methods of enforcement to secure long-term solutions to narcotic and gang-related problems, integrating its efforts with those of the concerned police division and community. The FALCON unit seeks to revitalize neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for those who reside there.
Due to the severity of the problems in the project area, the Hooper Block Project was one of only two projects, of the 180 submitted, selected by the FALCON unit in 1995. The Hooper Block Project was created to rejuvenate a 21-square block area ravaged by criminal gang activity, shootings, and graffiti. The geographical boundaries of the project are Adams Boulevard on the south, Washington Boulevard on the north, Central Avenue on the west, and Compton Avenue on the east. Although the project area is mostly residential, the Central Avenue corridor is a business district. In addition to the residences and businesses, the area includes the 20th Street Elementary School and the Central Recreation Center. The neighborhoods are predominantly Hispanic, and English is the primary language of only 28 percent of the population.
The Central Recreation Center, located in the targeted area at 22nd Street and Naomi Avenue, was literally controlled by local gang members. Children who dared to use the park had to first pay an admission fee to the Loco Park gang. Such crimes were largely unreported due to a deep-rooted fear instilled in the neighborhood by Loco Park gang members. This gang had such a stranglehold on the community that it boldly rearranged the bedding plants at the park to form "LP," representing the gang's logo. Additionally, graffiti was sprayed, etched, or marked on every available space in the park. Needless to say, children rarely ventured onto the park's playgrounds.
The Central Avenue corridor was also plagued by prostitution activity. This area was a known haven for such activity for several years. Task forces had been frequently deployed to this corridor in an effort to combat the problem, but met with limited success. The offenders were often arrested one night, and back on the street corner the next.
To identify community-recognized problems, a door-to-door survey of the area was conducted by representatives from the LAPD, FALCON, and the Ninth Council District. Concentrating on solving those concerns identified by the public was the focus of the project, rather than following the more traditional LAPD approach. While crime problems would continue to be targeted, a primary emphasis would be on addressing quality of life issues. The needs assessments identified concerns such as abatement of graffiti, narcotic trafficking, and gang activity. As in most communities, Hooper Block Project community members wanted to feel more secure in their neighborhoods.
Contributing to the project area's problems was the lack of community involvement, coupled with the community's mistrust and skepticism toward law enforcement. The community believed that the duration of a police presence would be short-lived. After a few weeks, the police would redirect their efforts and the same problems would then return. The community wanted long-lasting change, but it had lost any hope that such change could endure. Therefore, community members were reluctant to become involved in the project. It was apparent to the Department that in order to effectively respond to community issues, it had to dispel these perceptions.
A number of strategies were implemented in response to the needs and concerns of the Hooper Block Project. For example, in an effort to cultivate the community's trust, the Department's Neighborhood Block Club program was introduced to each city block in the project area. Once again, representatives from Newton Area, FALCON, the Ninth Council District canvassed the neighborhoods, inviting the residents to attend the meetings. Senior Lead Officers from Newton Area assigned to the project area, FALCON, Ninth Council District representatives and guest speakers attended the meetings in force. Their presence was a clear demonstration of their commitment to this endeavor. The purpose of these initial meetings was to create working partnerships with project participants to develop problem-solving strategies and to nurture self-governance. Block club members were instructed in the skills and resources necessary to conduct their own meetings and initiate their own requests and notifications for City services. Additionally, presentations regarding local laws and regulations, as well as police department functions, familiarized the project area community with its local law enforcement operations. This effort, in turn, freed police personnel to more fully concentrate on crime trends in the area.
As the community became more comfortable with the project's concept, their confidence in the Department and other City entities grew, and attendance at community meetings soared to overflowing crowds. The public developed such a sense of solidarity that they held block club meetings in their front yards to illustrate their new-found resolve. Additionally, as their mistrust of the police faded, they began to share with law enforcement personnel, specific and reliable information regarding narcotic trafficking and other criminal activity in the area. Eventually, the individual neighborhood block clubs assumed full responsibility for their operations and functions, including developing their own agendas, creating and distributing informational flyers, chairing meetings, and arranging guest speakers.
A Community Impact Team (CIT) was introduced to assist in coordinating the efforts of the project. The team consisted of members from more than 30 Los Angeles City entities, including the Department of Building and Safety, the City Attorney's Office, Department of Recreation and Parks, Department of Public Works, and Operation Clean Sweep. The team's primary focus was to efficiently work together to combat the problems that were identified in the survey. Representatives from Newton Area and the Ninth Council District regularly attended these meetings to further emphasize the importance of the program. As the project progressed, community members were also invited to the meetings to underscore their concerns.
In addition to block club and CIT meetings, community involvement was also sought through enhancement and outreach meetings. The goals of these meetings were twofold: the enhancement segment was to assist in graffiti and debris removal efforts in the project area; and, the outreach segment focused on public education and awareness. At the enhancement meetings, community members and City entities joined together to coordinate clean-up efforts within the Hooper project neighborhoods. Outreach meetings offered educational presentations such as gang and drug awareness, personal safety tactics, local laws and regulations, and law enforcement operations. The outreach meetings were held at local schools and churches in an effort to draw those institutions into the process.
Obtaining the participation of the non-English speaking population at community meetings was a primary concern of the enhancement and outreach segments of the project. Many community members stated that they wished to attend "English as a Second Language" (ESL) classes to become more actively involved in the process. Based upon this request, ESL classes were held at the Central Recreation Center during the evening hours. The response to these classes was very positive, and attendance steadily increased.
Monthly "Enforcement Team" meetings were held to discuss the implementation and effectiveness of crime reduction strategies. The "Enforcement Team" consisted of representatives from Newton Area specialized units (Vice, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums [CRASH], and Community Response Unit [CRU]), as well as personnel from the City Attorney's Office, the Los Angeles County Probation Department, and the County Health Department. The meetings analyzed current crime trends in the area, and developed multi-agency tactical responses to these trends, including probation sweeps, directed patrols at the Central Recreation Center, and increased prostitution enforcement efforts. These meetings were very effective, due in part to the enthusiastic participation and cooperation of the various entities, and the helpful and encouraging feedback from the community. This collaborative effort ensured not only a swift and decisive response to developing crime patterns, but also minimized wasteful duplication of effort.
During this past year, the community planned and organized several activities within the project area. For example, in an effort to reduce urban blight, five neighborhood "block party clean-ups" were held, followed by a community potluck feast at the Central Recreation Center. Members of the Hooper Block Project area responded in force to remove graffiti and debris from their streets and alleys. These work parties encouraged new friendships, promoted camaraderie, and instilled a sense of pride and empowerment. In addition to these efforts, Newton Area deployed trash and debris removal details, consisting of community service workers to the project area.
As part of the beautification process, the services of the Central Recovery Development Program were enlisted. This program provides a vehicle, outfitted with specialized equipment, to paint over surfaces damaged by graffiti. A unique feature of this vehicle is its ability to paint over surfaces with paint that exactly matches the original surface color. While such a capability may seem insignificant, it is of particular importance since studies have shown that the "patch work" covering of graffiti is as detrimental to the community as the graffiti itself.
At the beginning of the project, Newton Area recognized the need to actively encourage the involvement of community members in the Area's enforcement and prevention efforts, while maintaining the member's anonymity. One program that has proven successful is the Community Action Network (CAN). The CAN concept allows community members to report problems or crime information to the Department in a confidential manner. Hooper Block Project residents were provided with postage-paid suspicious activity reporting forms, which are addressed to the Newton Area CAN coordinator. This form enables community members to provide critical information, such as descriptions of criminal activities and/or involved suspects. The reporting persons may provide their names and addresses or remain anonymous. The information is ultimately forwarded to the concerned detective for appropriate action.
Since the inception of CAN, this exchange of information has resulted in a significant reduction in narcotic trafficking. Several arrests have been made in the project area, and 12 search warrants were successfully served. Five locations were the subject of narcotic abatement efforts by the United States Marshal's Office, United States Attorney General's Office, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. One location was seized by the Federal government as part of its enforcement process.
The Central Recreation Center became the project's reclamation focal point for the community. The park's amenities include a large-size swimming pool, a gymnasium, and a grassy area suitable for sporting events. The park adopted a "zero tolerance" gang activity policy. Through the cooperative efforts of the Center's staff, graffiti within the park was immediately removed, and problems involving gang members were quickly addressed. Newton Area also conducted directed patrols in the park and deployed at least two officers for a month-long period in order to exert a highly visible presence there. Through the community's support, the park is now a safe zone for project area children.
One of the more daunting problems encountered by the Hooper Block Project was that of blatant prostitution in the immediate vicinity of 21st Street and Central Avenue. A study of this problem determined that, surprisingly, none of the prostitutes working at this location lived within ten miles of it. And despite the past efforts of several vice task forces, the problem persisted. However, thanks to the passage of new legislation regarding loitering for the purpose of solicitation, and subsequent prosecution of such violations, the prostitutes withdrew from the site. This new legislation may have provided the most effective enforcement tool in years! Mr. Pablo Garcia, owner of "Tony's Restaurant," reported that families are now patronizing his restaurant, some for the first time, since the prostitutes are no longer present.
In November 1996, the project's first anniversary, a second community survey was conducted. The results in major categories were largely favorable. Of the residents and business owners who responded to the survey, 77 percent stated that narcotic activity had declined, 57 percent indicated that gang activity had been reduced, and 71 percent reported that prostitution had dramatically decreased. Newton Area is especially proud of one survey statistic in particular. In response to the question, "Do you know any officers from Newton Area?", 68 percent of the respondents answered affirmatively, as compared with a mere 16 percent in the first survey. In general, the overwhelming consensus was that the Hooper Block Project was quite effective, and the community is hopeful it will continue. Clearly, community policing has taken root in the Hooper Block Project area.
November 19, 1996, was a milestone for the Hooper Block Project. The project area community was invited to a meeting at 20th Street Elementary School. The purpose of the meeting was to evaluate the efficacy of the project. Councilmember Rita Walters, City Attorney James Hahn, and Newton Area Captains Jim Tatreau and Thomas Maeweather were in attendance, as well as more than 135 project area residents and business owners. This was an amazing metamorphosis when compared with the first Hooper Block Project meeting with its five attendees! During the meeting, a slide presentation was shown depicting the community before the project's inception, versus now. The assembly cheered and applauded in appreciation for the improvements they have brought to their neighborhoods.
The repressible crime statistics for the Hooper Block Project between 1995 and 1996 are equally impressive, reporting an overall crime reduction of 37 percent. When compared with repressible crime statistics for this same period throughout Newton Area and City wide (a 12 percent and 13 percent reduction respectively), this figure is even more noteworthy.
Perhaps even more impressive than the crime reduction figures, is the significant reduction in the fear of crime in the project area. In a recent survey, 65 percent of the project area members surveyed reported that they now permit their children to participate in activities at the Central Recreation Center. The park now schedules regular activities for neighborhood children including a Halloween festival, a circus, and various sporting events. Many of the Center's events are planned and organized from the direct input of community members. Now when driving past the park, one can observe children freely enjoying the park's amenities.
The success of this project is largely due to the proactive stance of the project area's residents and business owners. Once their faith in law enforcement was restored, community members themselves rose to the challenge of the project and became more actively involved. Whether they were hosting block club meetings, clearing trash from their streets and alleys, persuading their neighbors to participate, or reporting criminal activity, the residents and business owners remained very dedicated and courageously supported this endeavor.
Despite FALCON’s transition out of the project, the programs established by the project continue to thrive. Community residents have assumed more responsibility for these programs, and Newton Area continues to provide the police presence and responsiveness that the project area enjoyed during the special funding period.
The Hooper Block Project is the epitome of the Community Policing concept - the community and the Department working in partnership to reduce the fear and incidence of crime. The project community was initially unorganized and disillusioned by the scope of their problems and the apparent non-responsiveness of their local government. However, within a very short time and with a little encouragement, this area has emerged as a model of community participation, leadership, and self-governance.