Tuesday night I got to ride with the Pasadena PD. I sought this chance to spend time with them for many reasons. Some were personal in an effort to better understand policing in general, some specifically to understand why Pasadena has had downward trending violent and property crime compared to other areas in the city. Some was to find out what they did differently to impact those results. I even wanted some answers to questions and debates that come up here and other blogs regarding traffic and related safety issues.
My night in a nutshell: I rode up and down Lincoln Avenue from the more affluent SW side of town to the more troubled NW side of town. Our first call was a suspected dead body in a dumpster (rotting fried chicken), possible breaking and entering, vandalism (I knew the victim from my son’s elementary school), then a call regarding a lost license plate then the arrest of a suspected child molester. After that a run to the aquatic center on a call about an abandoned leaf blower which on arrival didn’t exist but a young man found someone tried to steal his ‘slade. Sadly the final call was to respond to a shooting that became the second murder of the year. The latter sadly slowed my ability to ask all my questions.
I still learned a lot on the ride along, you need to make the jump for the rest of the story.
The demographics of Pasadena and Monrovia are pretty similar. The mix of Hispanic heritage residents is similar to the rest of LA Metro. The percentage of black residents is lower in Monrovia with a slightly higher percentage white. The age distribution is similar within the two SGV cities; incomes are very close (but about 25% higher than LA Metro at large). Pasadena with 140,000 residents is a bit more than 3X the size of my corner of LA.
Prior to meeting with my host officer, I met with Richard M Aversano, Lieutenant Counter Terrorism Section. I learned that staff expertise is strength of PPD. Their new officers tend to be experienced lateral moves. Those new officers they hire direct are put through either LA Sheriff Academy or Rio Hondo. My understanding in talking with those at MPD we get our new hires through Rio Hondo with more lateral moves out than into the department.
After that it was time to meet my host officer Christopher Kirby, get a bullet proof vest and badger the poor man with questions. Why is it Pasadena has had downward trending violent and property crime? There are a lot of reasons according to Officer Kirby. First is that the department is fully staffed and “on the same page” in terms of goals and community involvement to get them achieved.
Fully staffed allows PPD the ability to do basic policing well. It allows them to do the home visits on probationers and parolee. It allows officers time to work with neighborhood groups to come up with solutions to their unique problems. It allows the officer’s time to get to know people in their patrol area.
When asked if the shooting of a local teen, Ebony Huel outside a youth center last year was a factor in getting citizens involved. He said that influenced more people to be involved in the programs already in place and a willingness to try new. There were other catalysts. Before that event they had several neighborhood groups and civic members they were working with to bring about change in the community.
According to Officer Kirby there is an expectation on the officers at PPD to go beyond just the immediate call. If they see problems they notify Crash (part of the city code enforcement), Social Workers and anyone else needed to help correct underlying problems. Aside from departmental expectations, officers also have their own personal desires that impact the effectiveness of the force. “We have a lot of time for self reflection and take pride in doing better.”
During the course of our drives around NW Pasadena we saw a lot of guys hanging at the various corners. Kirby new quite a few of the guys in the street. He was greeted with quite a few friendly waves. Even some came up to the car to talk with us. One in particular was friendly and jovial. One would have never known he was previously arrested by Kirby and did some time as a result until he explained their relationship to me. Something was done right in that arrest. Good staffing means the officer gets to know his community and they know they are around for them.
I got to talk with several different officers during some odd quiet times during the evening. There are several programs in place to help the kids at risk in the community from choosing the gang life style. Some are universal in the area like the Police Explorers. Several other were mentioned but two were mentioned got my attention. One has been around for years; another is a plan that will take place at the cities violence troubled Muir High School.
Officer Kirby’s now retired father started the “Youth Advisory Board” many years ago. This is a program where kids caught doing petty crimes like tagging, minor property claims are given a chance to change his ways. He enters into a contract with specific behavior goals that include some civic duty time, restitution where appropriate and grade improvement.
The kid is mentored with social workers, psychologists, counselors and other resources that might help. When he completes the program there is a ceremony acknowledging his accomplishment. Those few that don’t achieve their goals, or get in more trouble while under contract are turned over to the courts for handling. According to Officer Kirby, few kids fail the program, even fewer commit crimes again.
Muir High School has had a long history of low grades and violence, often gang related and divided along racial lines. Plans are underway to turn this public high school in to an “Academy School”. A school that still stresses the basics but includes classes tailored to career paths such as engineering, teaching, and even law enforcement. PPD is excited about the potential to help the kids with giving them some clear career direction and options and the training needed to give them a head start.
Finally a quick run down on the other questions raised.
Commander Eric Mills helped me with the questions regarding the red light cameras. Most of the intersections they are in place in have experienced a slow drop in violations over the years. He could not give me specific stats as the cities Department of Transportation keeps those stats and is charged with the traffic controls. It has been some time since he reviewed the particulars.
During my briefing and conversation with Richard M Aversano. I brought up the new cell phone laws. He prefaced that he isn’t directly involved with the enforcement, but opined the law makers had good intention but didn’t include enforcement provisions and funding. It largely is unenforceable as the officers on the street usually have higher priority concerns. He said he felt texting was the bigger hazard and it wasn’t addressed.
A note for the Proc, of the officers I talked with only a few remembered you from your run at mayor. Most weren’t aware you had a blog. At lease one knew you were in the Pasadena Weekly. Sorry, but no big ego stroke for you this time around
It was a very different night than I had expected. I did walk away with a sense that the PPD slogan on their cars “innovation” applied to all facets of what they did. When the call came in for the shooting I was impressed.
I’ve heard it before with another agency. Community support + full staff = results.
Thanks to all the officers in the Pasadena Police Department for your help and attention. Thanks too to Ann Erdman the Pasadena PIO for setting things in motion for me!
All pics by me, more in my flickr Pasadena PD Set.