The Los Angeles Police Department gathered together members of the African Americancommunity during a recent forum held to discuss the state of the department.
Chief William Bratton and Assistant Chief Paysinger used the meeting as aplatform to enlighten members of said community on changes and improvementswithin the department as well as fresh strategies currently in progress.
After acknowledging the status of personnel throughout the department, including26 recently announced promotions, Bratton noted, "We also have a departmentthat after years of neglect in terms of infrastructure and technology, we arearriving at a point where we are going to be the premier department in Americain our facilities." He spoke on the remodeling of headquarters locatedin varies parts of the city, jails, emergency operations centers, bomb unitcenters and emergency facilities. And in terms of technological advances, hetouched upon the acquiring of new tasers in order to reduce the number of timesofficers use their fire arms as well as new radio systems to improve the safetyand response time.
He added, "A significant importance is the acquisition of digital camerasin police cars that face out and also record what's going on in the car throughaudio systems." This, he explained, will address the issue of racial profilingthat is a major concern to minority communities in Los Angeles and cities throughoutthe country.
"We have been tracking the information for years on the stats, but nobodycan analyze it and say for certainty what it says. …We will have the actualvideo evidence to see what happened and what was said," Bratton explained,noting the system will cost nearly $20 million.
Assistant Chief Paysinger further touched on the department's use of technologywhen he spoke on COMPSTAT (computer statistics). Paysinger said, "TheCOMSTAT session is essentially designed to help the police department understandthe organic nature of crime and respond to it in a much more efficient way….This particular procedure allows us to evaluate via computer data and otherinformation to evaluate crime in real time, work with the community, and seekreal answers as to how we address crime in our communities."
An added dimension to the COMPSTAT session is the voice of the community. "Wesee these pockets of theft, robberies or burglaries in your neighborhood," saidPaysinger. "When the police department looks at those pockets, we seeit perhaps in a different way, through a different lens. …We have to reachout to others in the community – members, leaders, neighborhood councils, clergycouncils, schools, people whom we don't necessarily deal with on a regularbasis. It's important to reach out to them. And as a collective intelligence,find ways to deal with crime in our communities."
Each police bureau holds a COMPSTAT session once a month, where every thirdsession is open to the community.
Paysinger also explained the department's strategies of addressing the heatedtopic of gang violence, an area he again urged the community's involvement.
"We developed 35 gang initiatives, the principle of which was puttingtogether an investigative team," he said. "That 120-member team iscomprised of LAPD, FBI, DEA, ATF, district attorney, city attorney, probationand parole officers, etc. It is truly a law enforcement enterprise." Andadded, "The goal is if a gang member murders, know this: we will huntyou down, and we will put you in jail. …but they can't do it without you(the community)."
Paysinger noted the community's help in another of the department's approach:identifying the top targeted gangs and the top targeted gang members. Withina three-week period after posting the "10 Most Wanted" list, thepolice were able to arrest three gang members. But, he added, "We're notgoing to arrest our way out of the problem."
He said it will also take efforts that call for intervention and prevention,some of which are already in place. The department initiated a program referredto as "elementoring" where officers on probation adopt an elementaryschool and mentor the students long before they may find themselves in riskyenvironments or behaviors.
Commander Kenneth Garner, who became involved in the department's recruitmentefforts in 2005, spoke to the attending community members of the police officerrecruitment incentive program and how the community itself can be of help.Through this program, recruitment officers are able to train community membersthat want to understand the process as well as train the community in whatthe department is looking for and the kind of questions they are asking. Thedepartment has also expanded their recruitment efforts in advertising; lookingtowards those in the military; having officers mentor candidates throughoutrecruitment process including entering including entering the academy untilthey graduate; and seeking to offer $1000 to non-profit organizations who successfullyrecruit an officer.
Addressing the issue of improving the city Los Angeles Urban League PresidentBlair Taylor spoke on behalf of his organization's efforts. "You haveto understand that if you want to transform a community, you have to look atit holistically and focus in on education, health, safety, housing and employmentall at the same time," he stated. In October 2006, the Urban League soft-launchedits strategic plan in a 70-block area of the Crenshaw District that surroundsCrenshaw High School. Commented Taylor, "We have seen in the first fourmonths of the soft-launch phase of this program, a 24 percent reduction inviolent crime in this community. We can do something about this and we haveto look at it holistically. The Urban League is working on hard-launching thisprogram next month in April. We need help," he added.
Former Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack, who is now presidentof the five-member Police Commission, was also on hand to comment on the city'sincreasing gang problem. He said, "We are in a war for those youngsterswho are on the margin, who can go either way – either join the gang or go anotherway. But they have to see a way out. There has to be some hope and real opportunities…. As long as I am where I am, I'm going to try to be a part of the solution."
The next African American Community Forum is scheduled for September 6, 2007,at 6p.m. with the location to be determined.