Building Security With Community Relations
In March 2007, “America’s Most Wanted” featured a story about the murder of a 44-year-old businessman and former military officer in San Diego. The suspect, Ralph Garbarini, fled the scene and was at large until his arrest on March 13. How the arrest happened is due in part to a relationship between security officers and the community. Shortly after the program aired, three private security officers received a tip from a concerned citizen about a suspicious truck that resembled Garbarini’s truck as seen in the episode. These security officers were patrolling the neighborhood as part of a Business Improvement District (BID) project when the citizen flagged them down. After verifying the license plate from the car that appeared on “America’s Most Wanted” Web site, the officers placed the vehicle under surveillance and contacted the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). As a result of effective communication between the citizen, the private security officers and law enforcement officials, a murderer was captured.
The incident demonstrates how law enforcement can build trust with local citizens and encourage participation in the community. An established strong relationship between the private security officers and the law enforcement community allows for admirable cooperation across the board.
The need for private policing
Former Los Angeles chief of police, Ed Davis (1969-1978), emphasized that communities and law enforcement must work together to ensure the highest standards of policing. However, in Los Angeles, as well as in many other large cities, local police departments are understaffed and under funded. Officers are focused on the immediate response to major crimes, which leaves them with less time to get involved with the minor crimes and to build community relationships. It has been demonstrated that community-oriented policing can be successful, but implementing the practices and procedures proves to be difficult without additional grant funds provided by the government.
Recognizing that police departments are often stretched thin, community members have taken the initiative to form BIDs. A BID begins when a majority of property owners in a specified area agree to pay a fee on an annual basis. These funds are controlled by a non-profit management group and are applied to traditional city services that are lacking, such as street and sidewalk cleaning, landscape maintenance and security. From a security perspective, when managed correctly, a BID will assist in building relationships between local citizens and private security companies, who in turn use their partnerships with local police departments to reduce crime in area neighborhoods. The challenge is to form an approach with security that does not interfere with — but complements — existing police operations.
A successful BID
In 1996, the Hollywood Entertainment District BID was formed by property owners located on the west end of historic Hollywood Boulevard. The following year, the BID hired a private security company to boost security presence in an area including several tourist destinations such as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the famous Walk of Fame. For years leading up to the formation of the BID, the perception of the area among tourists and locals was that it was unsafe. “The primary reason why the BID was formed and funded by property owners 10 years ago was to improve public safety in Hollywood,” says Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, which manages the district. The concept of the new BID was to focus on quality-of-life crimes, such as begging, pandering and drinking, that the LAPD did not have time to address. “No community can ever expect to undertake an economic revitalization effort without addressing the fundamental issues,” Morrison says. “People were afraid to come to Hollywood — and for good reason.”
Retired and off-duty police officers were to be the first line of proactive defense. They were hired to patrol the area, armed, uniformed and on foot. They became known as the “BID Patrol,” and were given the responsibility of completing the various extrinsic duties associated with an arrest, such as transportation and report-filing. All reports and evidence are taken to the Hollywood Area Police Station for processing, thus reducing the time and the LAPD manpower commitment. Shortly after implementation, the program was deemed successful, and the safety of the Hollywood Entertainment District improved for business owners, residents and tourists. The BID was expanded in 1999 to encompass an 18-linear block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard. Private developers increasingly began to invest in the area, and the face of one of the most famous destinations in the country improved significantly.
Furthermore, trust was built between the security company and the community, and a cooperative and respectful partnership developed between the LAPD and the security company. The private sector had formed a bond with the public sector, thus benefiting the entire Hollywood Entertainment District.
The importance of building community relations
“The property owners working in partnership with the LAPD and the private security company were able to take back the streets and the sidewalks,” Morrison says. Building an established trust meant that people were now working with law enforcement and this could be attributed to the “Cop On The Beat,” a policing service that had been underutilized for more than 30 years in several cities.
Years ago, police officers were assigned to foot beats in densely populated areas of major cities. The “Cop On The Beat” spent years getting to know the citizens of an area intimately. The officer could do so easily because he or she was on foot, interacting with citizens on a daily basis. With the advent of vehicle patrol, “Cop On The Beat” relationships have deteriorated. A regular community member rarely comes into contact with police, and there is little opportunity to build a relationship. Police contact within a community has also been limited to victims and suspects. As a result, officers become detached from the community that surrounds them. The foot beat officer, on the other hand, has daily interaction with community residents.
In the Hollywood Entertainment District, the BID patrol officers do more than just provide a presence, they become members of the community. As members, it is necessary for the officers to not only make arrests, but to also find alternative and permanent solutions to the problems in the area.
For example, several quality-of-life issues in the Hollywood Entertainment District involve the homeless population. Homeless violators who experience frequent arrests often create a revolving-door effect rather than a lasting resolution to the problem. As a remedy, BID patrol officers have initiated close working relationships with several of the community’s homeless outreach programs. When appropriate, officers provide direction and program referrals to homeless citizens that will benefit them directly. Additionally, the same approach has been implemented with juvenile runaways. BID patrol officers have become involved with juvenile runaway shelters in order to direct juvenile citizens to organizations that will offer them help.
The advantages of the BID project in the Hollywood Entertainment District have not only been recognized by members of the community, but also by leaders in neighboring communities and businesses. The Sunset and Vine BID has joined with the Hollywood Entertainment BID to combine services and reap the benefits of a greater economy of scale. The true benefits have been felt in a much wider circle by public sector law enforcement officials, Los Angeles city administrators and politicians, the private sector security company and the citizens of the community.
Los Angeles’s BID project has proven that the public and private sectors can work together and overcome the often symbiotic relationship that most public administrators will not embrace. It has brought residents, including the homeless, business leaders, property owners, politicians, bureaucrats and police officers together. With this coalition of private and public sector cooperation, a true Los Angeles community has risen and continues to shine.
About the Author
Bill Farrar is vice president of operations and business development of Andrews International, Valencia, Calif. He served with the LAPD for more than 23 years and is currently responsible for overseeing the Hollywood Entertainment BID contract for Andrews International.