With LAPD patrols in the Westside slated to be cut by 25 percent in 2009, many residents of the neighborhoods in question are upset and worried that come the new year, 26 fewer cops will be available to protect their homes and families. Thus, when Police Chief William J. Bratton and Councilmember Bill Rosendahl called a community meeting last Thursday, December 11, to help allay these fears, hundreds of citizens took the chance to both listen and be heard.
Even before the meeting began at the Felicia Mahood Senior Citizen Center, the size of the crowd alone spoke to the gravity of the issue. Under the dim, yellow fluorescent lighting, sparse holiday decorations, and missing ceiling panels of the auditorium, over 200 people filled the hall to capacity. By 7 p.m. there was standing room only, with dozens of citizens, members of the press, and uniformed cops milling about in the adjacent lobby, craning their necks for a look inside.
Bratton initiated the evening by explaining to the impassioned crowd that his department would go ahead as planned, transferring 26 officers to the West Valley and Koreatown. Crime is down in the Westside, Bratton explained, so shifting the officers to higher-crime areas is a necessary move.
Rosendahl declared his stance in opposing the cuts to his district and supporting the call for more cops on the ground. “I’ve made it very clear that I stand by [Bratton] and the Mayor for more officers.” Bratton, in turn, took numerous opportunities to shift blame from the LAPD to the City Council. “When [Rosendahl’s] councilmember friends start talking about ‘lets slow down the hiring, we can’t afford the cops,’ that’s bullshit,” Bratton declared
To further his case, Bratton handed the microphone to Commander Kirk Albanese, who used a series of bar graphs, algorithms, PowerPoint slides, spreadsheets, and complex formulas to justify the transfers by explaining that officers are mathematically assigned to various neighborhoods as needed. Judging by the comatose expressions in the auditorium, the crowd found the presentation as exciting as a recitation of the L.A. telephone directory in Pig Latin—dull and nearly indecipherable. At least one woman dozed off and even Rosendahl was unable to stifle a yawn. What the numbers suggested, however, was that crime is significantly on the decline in the Westside, meaning that the police would be more useful deployed elsewhere.
The meeting came to life again when Rosendahl called for public comment. Twenty people jumped up and jostled for position in line behind a podium. Despite the length and depth of the previous presentation, it was hardly enough to placate the audience.
“Lovely as your algorithm is,” said Richard Cohen, member of the West LA Community Police Advisory Board and Chair of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, “we think that you could exercise a little judgment. We’re out there. We’re hanging out there. We have a lot of property that’s very valuable in Brentwood and in the Palisades, and we’re remote. So we would just ask you, pretty please? Recognizing that we’re big supporters, can you leave us just a little bit of extra resource, just so that officers aren’t pulled out and leaving our communities unprotected?”
Cohen’s comment elicited applause from the crowd and a deadpan from Bratton. “We are stretched thin everywhere,” Bratton said curtly. “We have cops where they’re needed.”
According to Sergeant Renaldi Thruston of the Santa Monica Police Department, the drain of cops from surrounding neighborhoods will not jeopardize Santa Monica’s public safety. “We don’t rely on [the LAPD] for assistance,” Thurston explained. “So I don’t see how that will affect the city.”
Despite their pleas and “pretty pleases,” Westside residents are looking at 2009 as a year with fewer police in their neighborhoods. Bratton promises that the situation will be temporary, but until then, residents will have to hope that crime in the Westside continues to decline.