The LAPD Is Doubling Down On A Community Policing Program. Why Some Activists Are Opposed

Protesters march past LAPD officers during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody, in downtown Los Angeles on June 6, 2020. (Kyle Grillot/AFP via Getty Images)

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The L.A. Police Commission on Tuesday heard from LAPD Chief Michel Moore and the future head of a newly created bureau aimed at improving relations between law enforcement and Los Angeles residents. Commissioners also got an earful from activists who say the move flies in the face of the "Defund the Police" movement.

The meeting came a day after L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Community Safety Partnership would be formalized as a bureau with a command structure and, eventually, expanded beyond its current nine sites.

Captain Emada Tingirides is being promoted to deputy chief to oversee the new CSP Bureau. She is only the second Black woman to achieve that rank in the LAPD.

Tingirides said the collaboration between residents and police has made CSP successful in its first locations, which include public housing projects in Watts, South L.A. and Boyle Heights. The program, which was developed by the LAPD, the Housing Authority and the city's office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, was launched in 2011.

"It was a partnership," Tingirides said via Zoom at the remote meeting. "Rather than law enforcement telling the community what we're going to do for them, the community told us their expectations and told us what they wanted us to do for them"

The goal is to reduce violence and shrink the influence of gangs, using the "community policing" model that law enforcement reformers say is about collaborating with residents to make their neighborhoods safer.

"What's most compelling about it is there's now a relationship so when there is conflict, we can sit down and have these conversations because we have this trust," Tingirides said.

What that looks like: CSP officers dedicate at least 5 years to a single neighborhood where they lead events like women's self-defense classes, basketball leagues and youth workshops. There's a lot of emphasis on fostering goodwill through activities such as taking kids to see Dodger's games. One of CSP's hallmark initiatives is "Safe Passage," which helps kids get to-and-from school safely.

One snag? So far, most CSP funding has come from private donations. On the call, some commissioners questioned the department's commitment to the program if its operation depends on philanthropy. The Mayor's announcement on Monday created a structure but no official funding stream — although City Council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Joe Buscaino have requested money for CSP from savings elsewhere in the LAPD's budget.

Chief Moore pointed to "the long-term commitment by the department," to CSP and said, "These programs should be integrated into the department."

For example, grant dollars supporting a site in the Harvard Park neighborhood are due to dry up Sept. 3, Moore said, at which point the city will take over funding.

WHAT'S THE REACTION SO FAR?

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice is a co-creator of the CSP model and advocate for LAPD reform. She applauded the move and said it took "courage" to create a bureau like this, which could become a model for the rest of the country.

But activists for racial justice who have organized massive protests in the streets of L.A. since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd say the CSP is the opposite of what they're fighting for. They are opposed to funding police to do jobs like social work or mental health outreach, which they believe should be left to professionals in those fields rather than armed officers.

Groups who want to defund the LAPD argue the city cannot police its way out of law enforcement violence toward Black people. They see this new LAPD bureau as co-opting their language.

"Stop using our terms. They don't mean anything to you, you don't understand them and you're appropriating them to make yourself look good," said Baba Akili, a longtime activist for police accountability who called in during the public comment portion of the meeting. "This is hypocritical. This is disingenuous. And this won't matter one bit because the lack of trust is connected to the lack of accountability."

Melina Abdullah with Black Lives Matter - LA echoed Akili's concerns, adding that the work of community-building should not be done by police.

"I don't know how 'Defund the Police' was used to pour money into policing and then chartering a new bureau," Abdullah said. "We absolutely want the things that were raised — tutoring, field trips, recreation programs. I'm a mom, I want those things. But those services cannot and should not be offered by police."

Other callers raised concerns that CSP officers in public housing and other diverse communities would gather data to fuel predictive policing, tools they argue contribute to over-policing and unfair targeting of Black and Latino people.

Tingirides responded to some of the criticism in her comments to the Police Commission.

"I welcome those concerns," she said, adding, "I do understand that we have a lot of work to do in mending those relationships"

DOES IT WORK?

Supporters of Community Safety Partnership-style policing say the program has been effective at reducing crime, and they point to a UCLA study to prove it.

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs conducted a review of CSP that was published earlier this year.

The team of researchers found that two of the CSP sites — Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs, in Watts — saw a reduction in violent crime over the six-year period they studied. The UCLA report says that included seven fewer homicides, 93 fewer aggravated assaults and 122 fewer robberies than their model predicted would take place.

They attribute this change to CSP's trust-building approach — i.e. if there's a problem down the block, residents are more likely to call LAPD and talk to officers about it.

But the UCLA researchers admit it's difficult to compare the places where Community Safety Partnership programs exist to the exact same locations and time period without CSP present. Every community is unique. In this case, they used data to create a synthetic 'control' location to compare with the real-life CSP sites.

They also found most of the violence-prevention benefits from CSP didn't start until at least three years into its operation at a given site.

Another study by the Urban Institute found more uneven results. For example, while crime did decrease in at least one of the housing developments where CSP operated, researchers found residents didn't attribute this change to the presence of LAPD officers.

Activists have more problems with the UCLA report.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition called the UCLA assessment into question, pointing out the study was funded by the Weingart Foundation and the Ballmer Group, among other donors — some of the same groups that paid for an expansion of the CSP program in 2017. Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff sits on the Board of Directors of the Weingart Foundation, but on Tuesday rejected claims that this represents a conflict of interest on his part.

Another sticking point with activists:

One of the lead researchers on the study is the Jeff Brantingham, a UCLA professor of Anthropology who developed a controversial predictive policing tool called "PredPol" that was scrapped by LAPD earlier this year. PredPol has been scrutinized for using data to target crime "hotspots," which critics say is based on flawed methodology and works to magnify racial bias and over-policing of Black and Latino people.

LAPD Captain Emada Tingirides will be promoted to Deputy Chief and oversee the newly created Community Safety Partnership Bureau. Mayor Garcetti and Chief Michele Moore made the announcement on Tuesday, July 27, 2020 on Facebook Live. (Screengrab from Facebook Live)

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners voted to accept an additional $500,000 from the Ballmer Group to fund two CSP sites, but asked for more details about the future of the program's funding, command structure, metrics for success and how it will interact with other parts of the LAPD.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON AT CITY HALL?

A lot. Here's a snapshot:

  • For community leaders who say the police have too much power, the most promising move so far is the passage of a measure calling to develop a crisis response system that can deploy mental health workers or other professionals to some 911 calls, instead of armed officers.
  • The City Council also cut the LAPD's budget by $150 million — and committed those resources to helping Black and Latino communities. It's a small amount but a symbolic victory, activists say.
  • Councilmembers have also introduced a motion to explore how to replace LAPD officers in traffic stops, where many use-of-force violations against Black and Latino residents occur. Possibilities include using automated cameras or DoT personnel to enforce traffic laws.

At the county level, voters may get to decide this November on a charter amendment that would require L.A. County to set at least 10% of its general fund budget aside for community-building programs, which would naturally cut some Sheriff's Department spending.

The final vote to place that measure on the ballot is expected Aug. 4.