A Neighborhood On Watch - Hel-Mel Businesses, Police Working Together

IMG00112-20100202-1117Following up on the January 21 meeting of Hel-Mel businesses following the 1/18 drive-by shooting on the corner, I organized a meeting that took place on Tuesday at Scoops between LAPD Rampart Division Senior Lead Officer Matt Zeigler (who was in training during the initial meeting) and the businesses,  to get them to voice their concerns and issues to the police, and for the police to get to know them — i.e. community-based policing. I also asked the officer if he could bring some of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies who patrol L.A. City College, whom he knows well, so that they can be in the loop, and he also invited Rampart Gang Unit Detective Rick Ramos and Rampart Neighborhood Prosecutor Andre Quintero.

Present at the meeting were representatives from Scoops, The Bicycle Kitchen, Orange 20 Bikes, Pure Luck Restaurant, Synchronicity Space gallery, Fake Gallery, UTG tattoo parlor and Sacred Fools Theatre.

The meeting, which had 15 attendees and got right down to business in a mere half hour’s time, was focused on the two shootings that occurred within five days of each other in January.

Officer Zeigler briefly introduced himself and said that he welcomed the relatively recent changes to the corner and how it attracts new people to the community. He added that he wanted to see that energy continue there in the Heliotrope-Melrose corner.

The January 18th shooting is currently under investigation by another Rampart detective. but Det. Ramos informed everyone that there was no evidence of it being a gang-related shooting. He also addressed concerns from eyewitnesses and bystanders who were initially told to stay away from the scene by explaining that in a perimeter situation, the police’s main concerns are finding the suspect and keeping the community out of harm’s way. Officer Zeigler said that what complicated the incident was that no one came forth to say they were hurt or shot at, which made identification of the gunman difficult.

Later that week, on the night of January 23, shots were fired from attendees of a party at The Strange, on 4316 Melrose Ave. There were no reports of anyone hurt, but nonetheless it raised the ire of the local businesses and residents alike. Nearly all of the businesses expressed concerns about unruly patrons from the parties and the associated issues they bring. Many doubted the promoter has the proper permits to do the party. Officer Zeigler said that he will contact the venue’s property owner prior to their next party. Tai Kim from Scoops also gave Officer Zeigler the fliers he got for The Strange’s next major party on February 13 (complete with contact information).

“Usually property owners take care of the problem once I explain to them all the fines they could pay,” Zeigler said.

IMG00113-20100202-1127TJ from Orange 20 Bikes produced a DVD with footage of both events from his store’s surveillance camera, and gave it to Officer Zeigler.

But neither of these incidents show up on the LAPD Crime Maps website, which only lists crimes according to the following criteria: Burglary (Property), Grand Theft Auto, Theft from Vehicle, Personal/Other Theft, Robbery (Violent), Aggravated Assault, Rape and Homicide.

The Bicycle Kitchen’s Kelly Martin, who organized the initial meeting weeks ago, expressed in a follow-up email that the group meet on a monthly basis, with Officer Zeigler offering to attend them on his days of availability. She also mentioned that the group can  discuss other common issues, like street lighting. Looks like the start of a great relationship between the community and law enforcement. That’s how community-based policing works.

After the meeting I asked Detective Ramos about the gang situation in the immediate area. He said that it’s been reducing each year, and personally speaking, though there’s been a presence, I haven’t really heard much. He said the neighborhood gangs – Clanton and Black Diamonds – are still around in one form or another, but a combination of factors like gang injunctions, 3-strikes and gang intervention programs have cooled down the local gang presence. He said he is very concerned about the current California state budget crisis, especially with regard to the release of certain inmates from prisons.

Being an organizer in the community for as long as I have, I couldn’t stress more the importance of getting to know your Senior Lead Officer. Develop an in-person rapport with them, and not just during noticeable periods of crime. Get to know who they are and they’ll get to know who you are, so you’re more than just a voice on the phone, but a real person they know — they’ll be much more responsive. If you live in the City of Los Angeles and want to know who your Senior Lead Officer is, call (877) ASK-LAPD.

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