Will changes to LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership build trust with residents?

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A police officer shakes hands with a demonstrator during a protest against the death of George Floyd, outside LAPD headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 2, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP) started nearly a decade ago in certain high-crime areas to focus on trust-building between police and residents — rather than more confrontational policing tactics. Now LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says CSP will be an actual bureau, staffed with officers from elsewhere in the department.

Supporters are calling this a dramatic change in the structure and future of the LAPD. Critics say it’s still a police-centered approach — at a time when other social services are needed.

KCRW talks with LAPD Captain Emada Tingirides, who will soon be Deputy Chief and will run CSP; LA City Councilman Marqueece Harris Dawson; and USC law professor Jody Armour. 

KCRW: Captain Tingirides, you were one of the founding officers of this program in 2011. What was the original idea?

Emada Tingirides: “The original idea back in 2011 was the actual brainchild of civil rights attorney Connie Rice. And the purpose of creating the Community Safety Partnership program was to place dedicated police officers within these identified CSP areas or zones to build relationships, work within the community to build trust, and address quality of life concerns, as well as violence and the trust that was lacking between the community and the LAPD. 

So with the initial implementation, officers went out into the community to walk foot beats, get to know the community, conduct safe passages to ensure that the youth were getting back and forth to school safely,

to really be embedded and engaged within the CSP sites, to get to know the community, and address some of the concerns within the community.” 

The cop on the beat, walking the neighborhood and getting to know residents — it sounds like an old idea. How is it considered radical?

“That is so true. ... It is getting police officers out of cars, getting them up close and personal, and connecting and talking to and understanding the communities that they're working in. It is one of the main tenets of our core values, building trust with the community, engaging with the community. And so it's not necessarily a new concept. 

The opportunity that the Community Safety Partnership brings is allowing the same officers working in the same area for a committed amount of time to be able to build those relationships and make change within the communities.”

This program is in about nine neighborhoods, and 100 officers are involved? 

“That is correct. We have officers in South Bureau, specifically in the 77th Street area. We also have officers in the Watts area, in Southeast Division, and they are assigned to the major public housing developments in Watts. We also have a team in San Fernando Valley in San Fernando Gardens, and we have some teams in the Central Bureau area and Newton Division as well as Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights.” 

How much bigger is this going to get, and in how many more neighborhoods?

“So the announcement was just to stand up the Community Safety Partnership Bureau, we are not expanding into additional sites. The purpose of the bureau was to have all of the CSP teams fall under one chain of command to ensure that the mission and vision of the program is aligned. It affords the opportunity to ensure that the officers receive the specialized CSP training for the program and to have one direct oversight of the officers assigned to the program.”

You will have direct oversight of the assigned officers?

“That will be me. And we will also have two captains assigned to the bureaus to help oversee the operational components of the CSP officers.”

UCLA studied the program and found that in general, crime went down compared to other similar neighborhoods. But this report had some criticisms. Residents said officers worked with the smart younger kids rather than teenagers or young adults who might have a more difficult or skeptical relationship with the police. Is that a fair assessment or not?

“It's an understandable assessment. And I would agree that there are a lot of people within the CSP areas that still have mistrust of law enforcement, and those are the people that are harder to reach.

Part of what the CSP program is about is reaching out to those individuals and attempting to build relationships. Working with the youth has allowed us to build the relationships with the teenagers and the adults within the communities, once they see that the officers are there to truly embed themselves and do something different and work with the youth in the community.  There are difficult relationships and there is conflict and there is tension. And that is the focus that the CSP officers rely on to change. 

We are currently working with the crisis intervention workers when there is a conflict or if there is a shooting or a critical incident within the zone. And oftentimes that's when the community is angry or when they express their

concern for law enforcement being in their community. Because those officers are assigned to those communities, there's a familiar face. And that person that may not like the police will at least have the opportunity to go up to that familiar face and have that conversation. … It's difficult on both sides. 

… There's work to do on both sides in creating that relationship. And part of that is just understanding and being there, in the hopes that over time the dialogue will begin, and we can have a breakthrough and begin to build that trust.”

City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, your district covers Southwest LA. You pushed for this program. But Black Lives Matter is critical of it, and wants the money and efforts geared towards social services and handled by people not carrying a gun.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson: “I certainly agree with them that less guns in the community is better than more. I think what you see with the Community Safety Partnership is not a response to the critique that BLM has, but instead, a way to try to figure out workable policing in our communities because the system that we had was not workable.

The neighborhood that we brought the Community Safety Partnership into, Harvard Park, had six homicides in the last period before we brought this program there. Since then it's had none and very few violent crime calls at all. And crime decreased much faster there than it did in other parts of the city. 

And the thing with these crimes is while the city sets up programs that we absolutely should set up, while we explore safety solutions, which we absolutely should explore, people live in these neighborhoods every day. And I invite anybody who has a critique of Community Safety Partnerships, come walk with me in the Harvard Park neighborhood. Talk to the people there and in other neighborhoods around the city. And I think we can all have increased knowledge as a result of that.”

Jody Armour, law professor at USC, what are your thoughts on this program? 

Jody Armour: “I'm concerned that we aren't really answering the call of the moment. The marchers were out in the street for days and weeks on end, marching for really fundamental change. And Black Lives Matter made it real clear that that's what they were seeking, and we built a lot of momentum around that. 

And I see this kind of program as a good public relations move, no doubt. But not as a reimagining, bold, fundamental rethinking of the police. Why do we need police to act as social workers? Why do we give them social worker duties and responsibilities? Wouldn't it be better to have social workers discharge those duties and responsibilities without the badge and the gun, which is always a looming threat of escalation if you don't agree with a social worker, or with the other civic-minded, public-minded interventionists, right? 

And so the question becomes whether you want to call it defunding or just unbundling. I think some people are less on edge by language like unbundling. Unbundling the police so that they aren't doing a lot of tasks that would be better done by people who are trained in that particular area seems to be what the marches have really been about, and this doesn't address that.” 

Captain Tingirides, would you prefer that these other activities be unbundled from your purview and be given to social workers?

Emada Tingirides: “I do believe that there are several entities that could assist in the work that we do. Right now we're just about the only entity that is called upon as it relates to mental health or neighborhood disputes. And having a social worker be able to come in and address some of those concerns … would be beneficial for law enforcement.

… We don't want to be social workers. Our job is to build those relationships, and build trust in communities, to reduce the incidence of fear, and address some quality of life issues and violent crime in communities. I'm not opposed to other entities taking over some of the responsibilities that for years law enforcement has had to carry on their own.”

City Councilman Harris-Dawson, why doesn’t that happen?

Marqueece Harris-Dawson: “I think we're on the way to making it happen. … [Jody] Armour raises a critique that is a good critique. But it's not something that you can go from one month to the next month. … The City Council has before it a bill that I'm the lead sponsor of, to deal with traffic stops and accident reports and speed traps and all the rest of things. 

… I cross a double yellow line in my car, and I'm confronted by a person with a deadly weapon. [I’m] not sure it has to be that way. And we want to look at that, also mental health. There was a time when you could call a local mental health facility, and they could send a worker to where you are to deal with the mental health case in your presence or in your community. 

Lots of times in my district, including the Harvard Park neighborhood, people don't want to call the police when there's a mental health case because they're afraid of what might happen. So that's understood. And that's being worked on by the City Council, as well as homelessness. 

Anybody who’s spent any time around police academy knows that dealing with a person whose problem is that they don't have a place to live — is not what you're trained to do. Yet that's who gets called to deal with homeless encampments and all the rest. And so City Council is well on its way to doing that. And that's happened specifically because people have been in the streets making the demand. But frankly, I think as … Armour and many others and BLM will attest, there's many of us who've been asking for that for years.”

You're in a position to provide it.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson: “No, I'm not in a position to provide it. If I could go to City Hall tomorrow and vote to provide social workers, mental health workers, traffic enforcement, I’d do it tomorrow. In fact, it takes several votes and it takes a vote of the mayor. That consensus has not been there up until now. Now at least we're having a discussion. I'm hopeful about the changes we'll make.”

— Written by Jennifer Wolfe and Amy Ta, produced by Nihar Patel and Brian Hardzinski

Credits

Guests:
Emada Tingirides - LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership Bureau, Marqueece Harris-Dawson - Los Angeles City Council - @mhdcd8, Jody Armour - USC - @NiggaTheory

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Nihar Patel