DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Increases in drug use, human waste and a spate of verbal and physical confrontations in Pershing Square have prompted a strong response from the city — police patrols and cleanups are being increased, and a task force has been formed to deal with problems officials imply stems from the presence of Occupy L.A. members in the park.
“We want to make sure that we take care of this real jewel we have in the middle of Downtown L.A.,” said 14th District Councilman José Huizar, whose territory includes the Financial District site, and who propelled the formation of the task force. “We’ve been hearing from stakeholders about the decaying conditions at Pershing Square in terms of public safety. For example, there has been a lot of disruption at the farmers market.”
The task force includes representatives from the City Attorney’s Office, the Department of Recreation and Parks, LAPD and Huizar’s office. Steps so far include the placement of uniformed police at the park on a daily basis, said LAPD Capt. Horace Frank. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has stepped up its visitations to the park to offer services to people who congregate there. The city has also installed 13 solar trash compactors to deal with waste and reduce vermin.
Frank said private security guards who patrol the park under contract with the city have stepped up their roles and are now conducting citizens arrests for certain crimes, whereas before they would just report them to the LAPD. There has also been an increase in narcotics and undercover officers at the park, he said.
While officials aren’t laying the sole blame for the new concerns at the park on any particular group, Huizar said some of the problems began after members of the Occupy L.A. movement began using the park as a home base.
“Once we had Occupy L.A. there, there has been this hands-off approach because of the number of people who have been gathering there. But whether it’s Occupy L.A. or anyone else, everyone has the right to enjoy the park,” Huizar said.
The loosely banded group currently holds its “general assembly” meetings at Pershing Square three days a week. During this month’s Art Walk, members of the movement covered nearly all of the concrete surfaces of the park in chalk.
John Edwards, president of Raw Inspiration, which runs the Wednesday farmers market at Pershing Square, has said that the increase in what appear to be members of the Occupy movement has hampered business for weeks. He said some people were in sleeping bags next to food tables, while others aggressively panhandled for food and urinated or defecated nearby.
Those conditions resulted in nine farmers dropping out of the market, and a drop of about 40% in business, he said. However, yesterday’s market, the first for which the changes were implemented, was much improved, Edwards said.
“It’s clean, police are patrolling the park, there’s more people,” he said. “There’s no question that it’s much better. The question is whether they’ll keep it up.”
©Los Angeles Downtown News.