Right from start, police recruits
take to the sidewalks
Police recruit Conor Sever converses
with a shop clerk on L.A.'s Hollywood Boulevard
Photo by DANIEL B. WOOD
By Daniel B. Wood, The
Christian Science Monitor
Republished with permission
November 18, 2005
HOLLYWOOD - With her factory-fresh police belt holding
revolver, mace, two nightsticks, and one radio, Jeanine Giordano
strides into Hollywood Star Market.
"Sir, we are just walking a foot beat up and down the street.
... I'm sure you've seen us," says the young police recruit
to a Korean working behind displays of beef jerky and pen lighters.
"If you have any problems or questions," she adds after
a conversation, "go ahead and let us know."
The clerk's nervous frown melts into a broad smile.
Score one for the new attempt by the Los Angeles Police Department
to repair one of the most tarnished, adversarial images of any
police force in the country.
By pushing officers out of squad cars and onto sidewalks, many
police departments have tried to reestablish ties to their communities.
What's new about the LAPD's move, formally announced last week,
is that it's starting from the bottom up: training new recruits
to walk the beat.
The innocuous-sounding Community Interaction Program (CIP) -
50 graduate-ready recruits at a time who fan out across the city's
most pedestrian-heavy crime areas - is a new twist on an old idea,
courtesy of one of America's most innovative police chiefs. The
story behind it clarifies, experts say, why many of law enforcement's
own brass feel police often go awry.
"Police work started out as a foot beat in which officers
got to know everyone, and worked on crime from the inside out,
proactively and preventively," says Lieutenant Nick Zingo,
of LAPD's training division.
That changed partly for economic reasons - cops in cars could
cover more ground in growing cities - and also because of strategic
shifts by many to mobile task forces used to get tough on entrenched
"When [police] do nothing but respond to calls, everything
the police see is negative and under high stress - suspects, witnesses,
victims," says Zingo. "This [program] allows the police
to establish relationships."
That's exactly what Ms. Giordano and her two fellow trainees,
Conor Sever and Joseph Romo are doing. As three of 50 in the program's
second class of trainees, they spend four weeks of eight-hour
shifts walking Hollywood Boulevard, getting to know residents
and business owners - and making arrests, if necessary.
"This is the real stuff, the stuff we've been waiting for,"
says Mr. Sever. The 28-year-old said he loved Academy training,
but it was "like a laboratory." "We're finally
dealing with real people and real concerns, seeing what affects
them personally and helping them resolve their problems if we
can." The trio made five felony arrests, including a drug
bust and an in-progress car theft, in their first three weeks.
In the handful of precincts where the LAPD is trying CIP, daytime
crime - petty theft, burglary, car theft, assault - in the target
downtown and Hollywood areas has plummeted to nearly zero, according
to Hollywood precinct Captain Michael Moriarty.
Many residents and business owners on Hollywood Boulevard are
embracing the new program.
"I wish they had been doing this years ago," says lifetime
Hollywood resident Trent McCoy. "Having a show of police
on the streets really lowers the anxiety," he says.
Police watchdog groups nationwide are taking notice, too. They
say despite the talk of new emphasis on community policing - which
accelerated nationally after the beating of Rodney King here in
1991 - there has not been as much progress in the training and
culture of police departments as they would have hoped.
Sending Giordano, Sever and Mr. Romo onto the foot beat in this
formative stage in their police training is the inspiration of
LAPD Chief William Bratton, who has been on the job since 2002.
He earned a reputation for turning around the Boston and New York
police departments. His novel ideas included analyzing crime reports
geographically with central computers, deploying officers accordingly,
and holding precinct chiefs accountable for crime.
But in Los Angeles, which has only one officer for every 429
residents (compared with 1 for every 218 in New York), the gains
have been slower - the result of painstaking refinements.
In announcing the new program last week, Mr. Bratton recalled
his first assignment as a rookie Boston officer, walking a business
district in an all-black neighborhood.
"That experience changed the rest of my life," he said.
Likewise, he wants the first experience of new LAPD officers to
be "not in a black-and-white [police cruiser], not chasing
radio calls, but the intimacy of face-to-face contact with people
in the neighborhood."
Bratton also wants recruits to see the LAPD in a new light and
change the perception many residents have of the force since the
Rodney King beatings. Despite 14 years of investigations, federal
oversight, new chiefs, and civilian boards, police abuse incidents
continue: a 13-year-old boy shot and killed, a baby killed, and
beatings caught on videotape.
"This city's police have made no progress in all that time,"
said Mary Alice Jones of the Congress of Racial Equality at a
recent protest. "They ... ride roughshod through neighborhoods
nestled in the cocoon of their police cars."
Many disagree with her assessment and attribute the city's recent
falling crime rates to getting desk cops back out on the street
and veteran officers into community patrol as well as coordinating
with neighborhood watch groups.
In the past two years, violent crimes (rape, homicide, robbery,
assault) have fallen about 29 percent and property crimes (burglary,
car theft) have decreased by about 10 percent.
Some national experts see that the CIP program can help solidify
the connection between a drop in the crime rate and improved police-community
"There have been a whole host of ways that police departments
have gone out of their way to get closer to the communities they
serve, but they usually involved putting established cops back
into foot beats," says Mary Powers, director of the National
Coalition on Police Brutality. "That's not the same as teaching
police from the outset that getting to know their community members,
and fighting crime together is a superior way to go."