STNC Holds Neighborhood Watch Meeting

Approximately 35 to 40 residents crowded the S-T Neighborhood Watch meeting in room 104 of North Valley City Hall on Aug. 25.

LAPD Senior Lead Officer (SLO) Cesar Contreras opened the meeting by citing a slight recent uptick in Foothill Division crime stats. These continually fluctuate, he said, so small month-to-month rises and drops aren’t telling. Instead, he advised to look for trends up or down over consecutive months. Rises usually track gang activity.

Although crime is up in L.A. broadly, the 0 to 10% rise in crime in the foothills area is among the safest divisions of LAPD, with violent crime being very infrequent. In S-T, nearly all crimes are stolen property, often from unlocked residences or vehicles. Pacoima and Lakeview Terrace currently show a rise in gang activity.

Contreras reported that San Fernando Valley is No. 1 in California in identity theft, which usually follows mail theft. To avoid becoming a victim, he advised the implementation of preventive measures that include the installation of lockable mailboxes and shredding bills and personal paperwork.

Officer Marr was introduced as Tujunga’s new temporary SLO! It is hoped that local police presence will further increase with uniformed detectives serving warrants and a motorcycle officer enforcing traffic laws. However, it is thought that faster response time is hindered by LAPD management repeatedly reassigning Foothill Division officers to Metropolitan Division, a citywide force dispatched to L.A.’s crime “hot spots.” But Neighborhood Watch attendees were told that the more often LAPD is called by residents to accurately report issues, the more LAPD will routinely drive by the area.

Insufficient staffing was reported as a major barrier to rapid and ongoing enforcement. Per COMPSTAT, LAPD has fewer than 9,000 officers. One officer per 433 residents is “one of the lowest ratios of police officers to residents of any major city in the country.”

Neighborhood Watch attendees were told to be suspicious of parking garages. Criminals see them as excellent hunting and hiding places.

The homeless population in S-T was also addressed. Other parts of L.A. have much worse homeless problems, attendees were told. Their encampments are often much larger and more public. In S-T, some places of worship provide food, but that practice can divert homeless from more far-reaching programs that require drug diversion or counseling.

It was made clear at the Neighborhood Watch meeting that LAPD’s role is not to jail or harass homeless for being unsightly. LAPD’s job is to prevent crime among all populations; however, local officers routinely roust homeless from readily visible camping. The tougher problem is keeping homeless from returning to an attractive area. In the Tujunga Wash, some have hooked up solar panels and have long-term living arrangements.

Additional challenges to LAPD’s policing the Wash are its rugged terrain, need for special equipment and staff. Horses and quads are ideal transportation for that terrain, but officers are required to have special training to use them.

Councilman Felipe Fuentes’ office is very vocal in “fighting for our piece of the pie” in funding and resources. Per an agreement with the local Council Office, an L.A. Family Housing satellite office is scheduled to move into NVCH room No. 104 within two to three weeks. This location should give homeless more city attention. Its staff will be accessible to suggestions and complaints about housing and monitoring those now in city housing.

But many homeless don’t want housing. One chronically homeless man now wants housing eight years after it was offered. Many are local people who grew up in the foothill area, have nearby friends and are comfortable in this area.

Thirty-six new staff are coming to LAPD’s “SMART” Teams. These two-person groups, composed of one clinician and one officer, handle mental health issues. A mental-health arrest takes four to five hours for paperwork.

L.A. County’s homeless outreach line for the mentally ill is (800) 854-7771 or (213) 480-3480. Court Dept. 95 deals with legal matters and disputes regarding the mentally ill.

The public is invited to attend S-T Neighborhood Watch meetings held the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of NVCH. Entrance is through the rear parking lot at 7747 Foothill Blvd., just east of the public library.

Submitted by Jon von Gunten,

STNC Representative to LAPD Neighborhood Watch