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PUBLIC FORUM : THE SENIOR LEAD OFFICER PROGRAM: SOME READERS SAY IT DIDN'T NEED FIXING.

Senior lead officers and Neighborhood Watch gave people a sense of personal involvement and responsibility for our safety and community. From quality-of-life issues to closing down drug houses, our senior leads were the ``makers,'' the ones who made things happen and got the job done. Today, they function strictly as regular patrol officers, and Neighborhood Watch is deteriorating. Forget proactive, forget prevention.

Solution: Reinstate senior leads in all 18 divisions. Incorporate new probationers and other officers into previous duty assignments of senior leads. If there is a need to have a police advisory board, lose the cheerleaders and make sure there are dissenters per Christopher Commission suggestion.

- Page Miller

Valley Village

Last summer a senior lead officer spent too much time in my neighborhood. Besides an excessive amount of time at one house around the corner (evidenced by his patrol car parked there), he took an inordinate interest in my property, letting himself into my yard whenever he pleased, despite a closed gate and dogs. I was told he even climbed over the gate and undid hinges to bypass the lock.

As a result of his harassment, we wound up in court, where the city charged me with a crime that exists only by virtue of selective interpretation of undefined words in the statutes. There is now a prominent ``No Trespassing'' sign on the gate and the dogs have grown bigger teeth. Knowing how to demand my rights saved the day. Eventually, all charges were dropped, but the unwarranted intrusions and emotional stress ruined the summer.

So when Chief Parks sent senior lead officers back on the beat, frankly, I cheered.

This officer commands no respect from me or most neighbors on this street. It's been pleasant this summer, and I've been able to enjoy my property.

Has anyone else observed that the initials for senior lead officer spell ``SLO''?

- Susan Kennedy

Sun Valley

I have been involved in Neighborhood Watch for many years, and I have seen people lose interest rapidly since our senior lead officers have been reassigned to the streets.

Our officers are not in a place where they can respond rapidly to the needs of the community, and as a result I have lost five block captains who have quit because they feel that the city doesn't care.

We have a great SLO who puts in his own time trying to keep Neighborhood Watch going, but how long can he keep this up? I think Chief Parks has made a big mistake.

- Charles Noble

Winnetka

As a state senator and former city council member, I work closely with the communities I represent and know firsthand how valuable the senior lead officers had been in reducing crime in the San Fernando Valley. They represented a strong link between the community and the police department and provided much-needed support for my constituents.

The senior lead officers constantly participated in Neighborhood Watch meetings and other community events critical to gaining the public's trust and assistance in crime-fighting efforts. In fact, they helped expand the number of active Neighborhood Watch programs in my council district from 19 to more than 60.

A partnership among residents, businesses and the police is much more effective when there is a consistent and personal link to a designated officer assigned to that geographic area.

While I agree with Chief Parks that every officer needs to be a community police officer, I still believe senior lead officers provided a valuable service and urge the chief to reinstate the program. It works.

- Sen. Richard Alarcon

D-Van Nuys

Councilman Hal Bernson said it best: ``Chief Parks has decimated Neighborhood Watch.''

The City Council has felt the degradation of services to their offices, yet the chief continues to force his plan. The will of the people continues to be ignored by Parks.

Return the SLOs to their previous duty assignment as community liaison and give them a probationer in the last phase of his or her training. That would give the people back a valuable tool and truly allow community involvement with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Also, it would allow rookies to be trained in community policing in the best possible way: They'd have contact with people on both sides of the spectrum.

- Steve Shuck

North Hollywood

Policing has been drastically running downhill since the absence of the senior lead officers. The hookers in our area are running rampant again, as are the drug dealers. When we call the desk to report a problem, it takes so long to describe the problem that by the time you hang up the phone, that problem has moved on and yet another has begun.

When I called my senior lead officer, the area car came quickly, as the senior lead officers knew the problems here and were quick to nip them in the bud.

Now it's up to the neighborhood. We are not trained or equipped to deal with these problems alone.

- Kathy Sacco

Van Nuys

Chief Parks' new basic car plan sounds good on paper, but realistically, it's impossible. With senior leads on patrol, they're simply another patrol officer. They're a slave to their radio, following where it leads, in or out of their own area or division.

To have a solid working relationship, one must have familiarity, continuity and trust. Senior leads gave us that and more. They taught us to prevent repressible crime, to be their ``eyes and ears,'' and they were directly accountable to us. We didn't need the complaint process as a threat to accomplish things in our neighborhoods.

- Paul and Sandra Munz

North Hollywood

We have lost the person we knew, and who knew us and our neighborhood when Chief Parks made the changes to the community-based policing and changed the role of the senior lead officers.

Our senior lead officers cannot be replaced by nameless, faceless officers who may or may not have the same skills and commitment to interact with the routine needs of the citizens.

The senior lead officers have developed a wealth of contacts within the community, city and county departments that they contacted when a citizen came to them with a need or a problem. That expertise cannot be put into a handbook.

- Gloria Wandler

Arleta

I have witnessed the overwhelming success of the interaction between the senior lead officers and the neighborhoods to which they were assigned. With the aid of our senior lead officer and other elements of the Los Angeles Police Department, we closed down a crack house and evicted elements of a vicious street gang. Over time, the safety and tranquility of our neighborhood was maintained by the continued presence of the senior lead officer, who was the backbone of our community policing.

Now, with the senior lead officers reassigned, if you want to transmit information concerning criminal activity, you have to contact a sergeant by telephone. Days may go by, but you'll eventually get one. But that sergeant won't know the neighborhood like the senior lead officer did.

- Brendan Breslin

Co-Police Community Representative

Neighborhood Watch, RD 964

Van Nuys

As a citizen who lives in Valley Village, I can comment firsthand on the adverse effect the removal of our senior lead officers by Chief Parks has had on our community.

Attendance is dropping at our Neighborhood Watch meetings, and we have lost a fine sense of community closeness, due to the fact that we don't know who will show up from the Los Angeles Police Department. They are strangers instead of our senior lead officers, who knew us all by name.

Our senior leads advised us on local scams, ways to make our homes safer, how to have graffiti removed and many other things we are reluctant to call the police about.

Chief Parks is an intractable man who will never admit he is wrong. He needs to learn one lesson: ``If it ain't broke, don't fix it.''

- Betty Velasco

Valley Village

The redeployment of our senior lead officers has removed them from their offices and their voicemail. We are no longer able to get in touch with our designated senior lead officers, who would be familiar with our concerns.

The morale of all Neighborhood Watch groups has deteriorated immensely. We no longer are informed through newsletters and meetings about what crimes are in our local communities to make us more aware.

Yes, crime has gone down, but in my opinion, it is through the efforts of the senior lead officers and the cooperation of the watch groups.

We, the Neighborhood Watch groups, will continue our vigil to have our senior lead officers reinstated.

- B.J. De Menna

Valley Village

I am a police community representative for one of the reporting districts in West Valley. I have 65 block captains representing over 1,400 homes that I filter information to and from our senior lead officers.

The consensus of opinion is that since we have lost our senior lead officers, communications have broken down; more graffiti is apparent and this can only lead to more crimes; they give us numbers to call, but no one is there, and if we're lucky, we reach a recording and they may return our calls in a few days.

We believe that we had one of the most efficient methods of combating crime and introducing our children directly to police officers, representing law and order. This is a priceless commodity for their future respect of law and order.

If our senior leads were reinstated, we would continue to try to have a block captain on every street, so every home could receive a newsletter and crime map.

- Betty Sperry

West Hills

It's impossible to enumerate the many instances when the Los Angeles Police Department senior lead officers came to our rescue and solved our neighborhood problems over the past several years.

Since this program was dismantled by our present chief of police several months ago, the same neighborhoods in our community who had a face, a name and a presence of an LAPD officer on a nearly daily basis, are now relegated to leaving phone messages that are not being responded to by the SLO replacements.

This has left our particular neighborhood with a feeling of helplessness - and has destroyed all the good work that was started by the SLOs - as well as a lack of confidence in the LAPD.

Our City Council is presently responding to the many constituent complaints over the loss of the SLO program by asking LAPD to report back as to why the highly successful original SLO program was replaced with one that all too many are not happy with.

Also, while crime statistics involving reported crime are allegedly down, there are many of us throughout the city who feel that crimes are not being reported to the police because of the lack of personal contact that so many neighborhoods previously had with their SLOs. Again, it is that sense of despair and helplessness that prevails with the citizenry in their attempts to deal with a failing program.

We want our original SLO program back ASAP.

- Don Schultz

President

Van Nuys Homeowners Association

My neighborhood became involved in community policing in 1993. Over the years we solved many problems (e.g. prostitution, proposed opening of pawn shop, car thefts, drug dealers, taggers) due only to the assistance of our senior lead officers. Having a personal contact within a large, impersonal police department made us feel respected and empowered and in turn provided additional eyes and ears for the understaffed force. The system worked.

Citizens were happy, the police were happy and fear of crime was tempered by a knowledge that one officer, knowledgeable of our area, would investigate information relayed and act, if appropriate. The system worked, so the chief proclaimed it broken.

The chief decided he wanted all officers to do community policing, instead of the specialized unit of senior lead officers. Sounds good on paper. But how can patrol cops accomplish this goal, while spending an eight-hour shift chasing radio calls all over the division? How is every officer supposed to see crime patterns, know the players involved and intervene, when he or she is running from one end of the division to the other for eight hours a day?

But, all officers are supposed to deal with the community. Chief, you're an officer, and therefore you're to be involved in community policing. How long do I have to wait for you to return my call to solve a problem I'm having in my neighborhood? It's been two weeks and still no call. Chief, your plan is not working. Everyone knows it, even you.

- Ellen Bagelman

President

Lake Balboa Neighborhood Association

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Los Angeles Police Officer Larry Taylor explains traffic rules to an errant driver.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 14, 1999
Words:2134
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