frazgo’s wild ride with Pasadena PD

Late evening arrest
Late evening arrest at an arrest in NW Pasadena.

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.

In search of evidence behind the yellow crime scene tape.
In search of evidence behind the yellow crime scene tape.

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.

11 thoughts on “frazgo’s wild ride with Pasadena PD”

  1. I think this is so cool that you get to do this! It has to be super enlightening to get to mingle with the police and see the city through their eyes. I’m sorry you had a murder happen while you were on “the beat,” but at the same time, that had to be cool as hell.

    I think that cops have a thankless job. I don’t really have a problem with them, but I’m not out on the street doing things I shouldn’t be doing. And, before everyone chimes in about police brutality, racism, etc., I believe that there are still good guys out there who do this job to make the city a better place. They aren’t all s&*theads.

    Go Frazgo!

  2. Fantastic post, Fraz! And my but times seem to have changed. I did a ride-along with the PPD back in 1999 or 2000 when I was with the Pasadena Weekly. It mostly stuck to Old Town and there were no vests involved and no murders.

    Later on I also got a chance to spend a full 24-hours with the fine men and women of hte Pasadena Fire Department’s Station No. 36 (on what turned out to be the day JFK Jr. died) for another cover for the old PW. Fun times back when I was a real ink-stained wretch.

  3. Lt. Aversano’s comments about the cell phone law reinforce what many of us have been saying all along.

    And the murder sounds like a sadly ironic twist to an evening that was intended in part to examine Pasadena’s downward trend of violent crime.

  4. Hey Matt,
    That murder caught everyone by surprise for a lot of reasons. A lot more was said that I can’t share as it could possibly hamper the investigation.
    I *think* I can safely say without hampering or disclosing more than has been officially said, this was looking like a crime of passion, not gang related and something not easily anticpated and not entirely preventable.

    That said, 2 murders and 8 months into the year is a pretty terrific result. My corner of LA 7 miles away had 3 dead, one still in a coma and another left a paraplegic, and 2 others just full of holes and recovering. Not a bad result for a city 3X my size, much better results than a lot of cities in the area can claim.

    Besides you have to like the guys for simply putting up with this flakey artist.

  5. Wow Fraz. From an entirely cynical journalist’s point of view, murders don’t usually happen on ridealongs. The times I’ve done ridealongs, you could hear crickets. In fact, when the fire department used to have me along, they would joke they’d get to eat dinner since ridealong nights are almost always quiet.

  6. 1. AWESOME job representing the blogosphere. I know the Proc can be sarcastic..but I’m serious…you did an amazing job, better than I would have ever done.

    2. Great reporting/journalistic skills.

    3. To Will I Am Campbell: “Fantastic post, Fraz! And my but times seem to have changed. I did a ride-along with the PPD back in 1999 or 2000 when I was with the Pasadena Weekly” – That’s so cool you used to work at the PW…that’s where I work now.

    4. It’s ok the cops don’t read my blog – they have a City to protect!

    Great great stuff.

    – AP

  7. Thanks guys. Darlene, the murder just happened and as AP points out they have a city to protect so I was pulled into the thick of it. I knew it and backed way off to let them do their job.

  8. Way to go Fraz! Keep it up. One agency at a time. It is great to see that PPD opened up and supported having you on a ride. Gives the public a point of view and perspective of someone not just from the inside. Little more activity than your day with Arcadia. I think you will be able to find some similarities between agencies, but also many things that are done very differently. Not just because of size, but community, types of service demands, personalities, management style, city phylosophy…you name it. Each agency you visit will have a variation of approaches.

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