Approximately 75 people gathered at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Tuesday at a town hall hosted by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division.
Feuer introduced the audience to Steve Houchin, the new neighborhood prosecutor for Hollywood. Houchin is a veteran prosecutor who was formerly assigned to the LAPD’s Olympic Division. The crowd also met Capt. Cory Palka, the new commanding officer at the Hollywood Division, and Capt. Tony Carranza, the station’s patrol captain.
Feuer gave an overview of his department’s efforts to address crime and community issues, and the police officers stressed that keeping crime low and preventing violence takes a partnership between the community and the department.
“The City Attorney’s Office has a wide responsibility in the city. The City Attorney’s Office writes every law in Los Angeles, we advise the mayor and the city council on every legal issue. And since almost every public policy has a legal component to it, pretty much every issue in the city is in our office in some way,” Feuer said. “The City Attorney’s Office defends the city when the city is sued. Sometimes those lawsuits are sort of matter-of-fact and there is no real basis for them so we try to put them aside because your tax dollars are better spent on other things. But sometimes the city has made a mistake, and when the city has made a mistake, one of my goals as city attorney is to try to turn that situation into something positive.”
Feuer cited an example of a civil case against the city in which the court found that a provision in the city’s gang injunction laws was unconstitutional and ruled in favor of attorneys representing gang members. Feuer said the city could have been liable for damages, which was a major concern. As a solution, Feuer proposed a resolution that included creating job readiness and apprenticeship programs, giving a priority to the plaintiffs. The resolution was later accepted by the plaintiffs’ attorneys and the court.
“I am optimistic when the program takes effect, as it will soon, we will be starting to employ people who otherwise had no access to jobs and no futures really,” Feuer said.” “[It’s] important stuff that I think is a much better use of scarce dollars than it would be to simply make payouts. I think it will be a model across the country.”
Feuer added that his office also prosecutes “tens of thousands” of cases every year. One of the most common offenses prosecuted in the Hollywood area is driving under the influence, which is taken very seriously, he said. However, for some other first-time crimes, like shoplifting and petty theft, the City Attorney’s Office uses a system known as the Neighborhood Justice Program. Perpetrators go before a citizens panel made up of citizens from the community where the incidents occurred who recommend punishments that fit the crime but also don’t result in a criminal record. Punishments vary, but generally include community service that benefits the neighborhood. The goal is to give people who have committed low-level crimes an opportunity to redeem themselves and move forward.
“I’m of the view that conviction rate is a lazy measure of our success. I think that the more appropriate measure, in as many cases as possible, is how we solve the problem so that the person who perpetrated the offense isn’t going to do it again, so we address the underlying issues,” Feuer said. “We have many different projects that have gotten national recognition since I’ve been city attorney that are designed to turn people’s lives around.”
Another such program is Feuer’s homeless citation clinics in which individuals with unpaid traffic citations and other unresolved court issues can have their records cleared if they agree to participate in social service programs. Sometimes it involves accepting housing or shelter in an attempt to get people off the streets. Approximately 1,200 people have used the program since it started last year.
The city attorney also highlighted the neighborhood prosecutor program, which addresses community problems like nuisance properties, graffiti, illegal dumping and quality of life issues. Neighborhood prosecutors are assigned to all 21 LAPD community police stations, and are a first point of contact for community members. Residents in the Hollywood area are encouraged to contact Houchin about problems in their neighborhoods by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feuer also praised law enforcement for its role in protecting public safety and said incidents of gun violence, such as the recent shooting of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, illustrate the need for tougher regulations on guns. As co-founder of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, a national organization that makes recommendations on policy issues, Feuer hopes to reduce the number of gun-related deaths.
Palka, who previously served at the Hollywood Division as patrol captain, also said he is proud of the officers serving in Hollywood. He asked the public to consider the adversity officers face on a daily basis, and called for understanding during a “troubling time.”
All of the officials said they plan to keep their focus on reducing crime and improving quality of life. The most prevalent crime in Hollywood is auto burglary, according to Carranza, who cautioned motorists to keep valuables locked and out of sight. Carranza also cautioned people leaving nightclubs on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards late at night or early in the morning to be aware of their surroundings and call police if they see anything suspicious because there has been a recent rash of street hold-ups.
Feuer wants to hold town hall meetings in every geographic area of the city so prevention tips and updates on progress and issues can be delivered face-to-face. Feuer said they foster an environment where the community comes together rather than to being divisive.
“I envision our office as the key office in the city to solve problems, large and small,” he added.
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