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Trust is Key to Policing Pico, Police, Residents Agree

By Jorge Casuso

Dec. 13 -- True or false: (1) Police recently guarded an elementary school with what looked like bazooka launchers. (2) A church was shot up during a recent drive-by shooting. (3) Pico residents don't trust police.

Those statements -- made during a candid discussion between police and members of the Pico Neighborhood Association board last week -- may be indicative of the mistrust that must be overcome if a new neighborhood-centered policing program is to take root in the crime-riddled neighborhood, both parties agreed.

"I think the biggest word is trust," Deputy Chief Phillip Sanchez told members of the PNA board last Thursday. "Any police department relies on trust. Relationships rely on trust… Reality is perception."

The new citywide program, which "puts a face on the police department," designates three lieutenants to the city's southeast side, which includes the Pico Neighborhood (instead of two for each of the city's other areas), Sanchez said.

The lieutenants, who write a report that goes to the captains and then Chief James T. Butts, Jr., have "administrative authority to get resources to address concerns," Sanchez said. They also pass on information to City departments that can help address those concerns.

While board members welcomed the idea of working closer with law enforcement, they warned that trusting the police might be difficult for many Pico Neighborhood residents.

"We want community centered policing in the Pico Neighborhood. We've needed community centered policing," said PNA board member Maria Loya, who heads Mothers for Justice, a Pico Neighborhood-based group.

"You need to build trust," Loya said. "In the past, that trust with a large segment of the community doesn't exist. Some families feel that they have been harassed and unfairly treated."

"People don't trust police because of the way they are treating their children," said board member Gina de Baca. "My child was beat up in my house in front of me. They (police officers) punched him in the face when he was handcuffed. One (officer) strangled him.

"My son is incarcerated," de Baca said, adding that the officers who arrested her son are "known for that type of behavior." Her key question: "How can we trust police?"

Sanchez declined to comment on the alleged incident and said that "an internal investigation is occurring," but he cautioned that it would take at least a year by statute to complete.

The perception in the Pico community, said board member Wes Terry, is that the police have done little to stop a string of shootings that have taken the life of 19-year-old Jalonnie D. Carter and are bound to take more.

The fatal shooting of Carter in an alley on September 2 took place in a crime-prone pocket of the Pico neighborhood where five shootings took place between May 9 and June 5. No one was injured in the shootings, which resumed last month.

"For the past month, shots have been fired in broad daylight," Terry said. "I see nothing from the City saying we're going to step in and do something about it.

"Why is 17th (street) and Delaware (Avenue) such a quagmire, and people can fire arms with complete arrogance," Terry said. "You have a rogue element out there. It's just a matter of time till a child gets killed. There's got to be some way you can let this brazen criminal know you can't do a drive-by shooting."

Sanchez cautioned that patrolling a neighborhood is no guarantee crime will be deterred.

"Our officers patrol, but there is just no way to stop human activity," Sanchez said. "None of us can control how our youth will act, or one of us will act, given particular circumstances."

Perception, and not reality, has led to some of the mistrust that exists between some residents and police, Sanchez said.

He noted that some of the incidents relayed by board members during the meeting were not entirely accurate. "Reality is perception," Sanchez repeated several times, echoing a belief expounded by Chief Butts.

Sanchez challenged Terry's comment that a man was injured when a church in the Pico Neighborhood was "shot up." The church, Sanchez said, was not "shot up," although a man was injured outside the church during a drive-by shooting.

He also challenged de Baca's comment that students at Edison School saw a bloodied criminal who tried to evade police officers armed with what looked like bazooka launchers.

Sanchez noted that the incident did not involve the school, and that the suspect was never in the perimeter of the campus. The school, however, was locked down as a precaution by the principal, and police were armed with long-barrel rifles a child might mistake for a bazooka launcher, Sanchez said.

Sanchez also questioned charges that Pico residents don't trust police, saying it was an opinion expressed by eight residents at a neighborhood meeting after the string of summer shootings.

"When we say we, we tend to broad brush," Sanchez said.

Sanchez said that the new neighborhood centered policing strategy is already working. In the past six months, he said, officers have initiated 1,188 contacts and responded to 1,322 calls for service.

The "outreach," Sanchez said, led to 265 citations (most of them for traffic hazards) and 46 felony and 69 misdemeanor arrests. One hundred and fifty persons are in custody, he said.

"These numbers are kind of staggering," Sanchez said. "I like to think we have developed some trust, some pocket of trust."

The chief has authorized the overtime needed to beef up enforcement in the Pico Neighborhood, Sanchez said. In the past six months, there have been 3,060 hours of enforcement provided by officers deployed in the neighborhood, 2,278 hours of overtime clocked in by officers and 61 hours of air patrol.

Enforcement alone, some board members suggested, is not the answer.

"We still continue to have this ongoing violence," said Irma Carranza. "It's time to do something different. We need to from a coalition."

"I think there does need to be a gathering of individuals," Sanchez said. "You are the eyes and ears of the community... Rather than protocol, I wonder if we should be talking about philosophies."

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