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Hundreds of local residents came together with law enforcement and public officials Tuesday to show their communities are united against crime.
The gatherings were part of the 27th annual National Night Out Against Crime, an event held every August that has grown to include more than 36 million participants in the United States. In the local area, one of the largest National Night Out observances was held at Poinsettia Park in the Melrose District, where approximately 250 people met with officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division and members of the Los Angeles City Council. While the event has a serious tone, it has grown into a social gathering where members of the community get to know each other and learn who they can turn to if problems occur. Information on community resources was available, and the event also included live music and food provided by Pink’s Hotdogs and Canter’s Deli.
The Poinsettia Park event was organized by the Melrose Action Neighborhood watch, a group formed two-and-a-half years ago, after the murder of Stanley Avenue resident Katan Khaimov. Khaimov was stabbed during an evening walk and collapsed near the corner of Romaine Street and Martel Avenue. Although the murder remains unsolved, the cohesion in the community that came after the incident remains strong, according to Peter Nichols, co-founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to reach out to the community with our law enforcement officials and show an appreciation for their dedicated service in keeping us safe,” Nichols said. “We have developed a rapport that has benefitted our community tenfold. We have been able to mitigate some of the problems in the area, and we have made tremendous progress.”
Nichols said that success is evident at Poinsettia Park, where prostitutes and drug dealers used to congregate. On Tuesday night, it was filled with children and families, and the park has become a central gathering place for residents in the Melrose District.
“Our first initiative was to clean up the park, and this park has done a complete turnaround,” Nichols added. “It used to be really bad. It wasn’t a place where you would want to come, but we worked with the LAPD to improve public safety and now it’s a great place to come. The park really has improved.”
Nichols credited Officer Arthur Gallegos, the senior lead officer from the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, with the area’s improvements. Gallegos regularly meets with residents and members of the neighborhood watch, and has focused on quality of life issues like graffiti, loitering and drinking in public that are often precursors to more serious crimes.
“The main goal is to get people to turn out and meet their neighbors or join a neighborhood watch,” Gallegos said. “It’s about getting involved. Without the community, we can’t solve crimes as effectively. They are a big part of observing crime and solving crime. We need the community to tell us when crimes are occurring, to report them, because we can’t be everywhere at once. It’s a partnership that makes this successful.”
Capt. Eric Davis, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, also said events like National Night Out Against Crime enable people to learn how to get involved, and that the partnerships can be fun.
“It’s safety in numbers, it’s about people taking back the community from those who want to take public safety away, and it’s about achieving a quality of life in making changes for the public good,” Davis said. “These people have made a decision that they are not going to stand for crime in their community. If everyone did that, we would have a much safer city.”
Several public officials also attended the event in Poinsettia Park, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District; and Los Angeles City Councilmembers Tom LaBonge, 4th District, and Paul Koretz, 5th District.
“It’s nice to get the community together as part of a celebration of public safety rather than when a problem occurs,” Koretz added. “This is a great opportunity to get to know each other and to see what other organizations are doing to promote public safety.”
LaBonge thanked the police officers present, and pledged to continue the city’s support for community policing.
“Every night is National Night Out for the LAPD,” LaBonge said. “They are in our community, they are protecting us. This is a way to say thank you, and I’m pleased to see the community here.”
Melrose District resident Mary Shaffer said it was the first time she participated in National Night Out Against Crime, but added that she plans to make it an annual event for her family.
“It’s great to get out and meet everyone,” Shaffer said. “This is the kind of thing that we need to do more often, because it really gives everyone a sense of pride in their community.”
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