To advocate for peace throughout the community, officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division came together with residents Tuesday at a town hall meeting organized by Pastor Charles Johnson of Cochran Avenue Baptist Church.
Approximately 45 people gathered at the church to learn about police procedure and to discuss ways law enforcement and residents can work together to improve the Wilshire community. Johnson organized a solidarity march from the church to the Wilshire Division in July to show the congregation’s support of the LAPD after police-involved shootings earlier this summer in Louisiana and Minnesota, and deadly sniper attacks against police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Tuesday’s meeting was another way to start a positive dialogue that Johnson hopes will quell violence.
“We really want to have a transparent conversation with the police department in our community. I am so excited that we don’t always have to come together in the midst of a situation or after a situation,” Johnson said. “We want to be proactive [and] we want to start with a real conversation. We want to have some real conclusions from the conversation. We want to have a real dialogue so we can have some conclusions that the police can leave here, and the people can leave here, and we can say we are at peace because we have some conclusions.”
Sgt. A.J. Kirby, community relations officer for the Wilshire Division, started the meeting by fielding a question from an audience member about how young people can become involved with the department. When people learn at a young age to distrust law enforcement, it can last a lifetime, Kirby said. The goal is to get young people involved in programs like the cadets and junior cadets to build a positive relationship early in their lives, so they have a familiarity with the difficulties of being a police officer.
In the past, a majority of the cadets entered the program because they wanted to become police officers. The program has transformed, and now also focuses on building self-esteem and life skills like public speaking that help cadets in any field they choose.
“Our programs are designed to make people leaders and citizens,” Kirby said. “It’s more of a leadership academy than a law enforcement cadet academy, but nonetheless it’s a good step for them, and you get some discipline in your life.”
Senior lead officer Charles Thomas answered questions about police procedure in the field and why officers sometimes act in an aggressive manner when stopping people. Thomas said the greatest danger to police officers comes from a person’s hands, which is why officers ask that people keep their hands visible during interactions with police. A refusal to do so is a red flag that leads to further suspicion and a potential escalation of the situation. He stressed that complying with an officer’s requests is the best course for a peaceful outcome.
“When police come to you and say ‘keep your hands up,’ it’s because [the hands] are how [someone can] retrieve weapons,” Thomas said. “We are trying to make the environment safe for everybody.”
Other questions focused on how residents can file a complaint if they believe they were mistreated by police, and how officer-involved shootings are investigated. The department has a detailed, multi-layer process for investigating both situations, said Capt. Rolando Solano, commanding officer of the Wilshire Division.
All complaints are presented to a supervisor who launches an investigation. Similar to how detectives investigate crimes, investigations into citizen complaints involve witness and officer interviews, and a review of security camera footage if it’s available. The investigation is later reviewed by the command staff at the station and administrators at the bureau level, who oversee multiple police stations. Ultimately, Chief Charlie Beck has discretion over the final decision with complaints. Punishments can range from reprimand to firing.
Officer-involved shootings are scrutinized even more closely, and are investigated by the LAPD’s Force Review Division, Internal Affairs and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Their recommendations are reviewed by the Los Angeles Police Commission and Chief Beck, who makes the final decision on every case. Every time an officer-involved shooting occurs, the officer is immediately taken out of the field and questioned. Solano said great care is taken to ensure officers are highly trained and capable of performing their duties. He acknowledged that sometimes mistakes are made and sometimes officers act outside of expectations, which is why the department uses such an elaborate process for complaints and officer-involved shootings.
“They are taken very seriously. Anything that happens out in the field, feel free to contact us at the police station,” Solano said. “We will send an investigating supervisor and come out and meet with you.”
Solano also said people should reach out to senior lead officers about crime problems. The senior lead officers are liaisons between residents and the department, and can help direct resources to address problems.
Senior lead officer Adam Green, who is assigned to the neighborhoods south of San Vicente Boulevard where the Cochran Avenue Baptist Church is located, said working together is crucial. He encouraged residents to call the police station to contact the senior lead officer for their neighborhood. He also stressed the importance of community involvement between residents and the importance of neighborhood watches and community councils in fighting crime.
“No matter who you are and what you do in the community, I will be there for you,” Green said. “I am the face of the Wilshire Division and the department. I am that officer in the community. It’s another way we can build bridges in the community.”
Green can be reached by calling (213)793-0647.
The law enforcement panelists also outlined other resources at the station available to help residents solve problems. Wilshire Division neighborhood prosecutor Nooshi Zahiri Naderi encouraged people to contact her about quality of life issues. She can direct the information to officers for crime solving, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office can get involved if legal proceedings are warranted.
Melanie McQueen, a Wilshire Vista Heights Neighborhood Association member who attended the meeting, reiterated that residents should get more involved in community groups and neighborhood councils. She said the meeting at the church was a good first step in bringing officers together with the community.
“I want to thank Pastor Johnson and the Cochran Avenue Baptist Church for setting up this discussion because it’s desperately needed and it’s great that there is dialogue going on,” McQueen said. “I also want to thank the police officers and especially my senior lead officer, officer Green, and the neighborhood prosecutor. Sometimes I do ask questions and I don’t always know where to go to get certain things done, and sometimes you do get caught up in the city bureaucracy and need guidance, so thank you. This was very helpful.”
Johnson hopes the meeting will be the first of many to come in helping the community understand ways to partner with police. He said the church is behind the department and supports officers.
“We want our police department to know that we are pro-police. We want them to know that we support them and we are behind them 5,000 percent,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, we have to learn how to show people, not in the midst of crisis, but in the midst of calm, that we are with them.”
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.