I love DTLA. Since the year 2000, my neighbors and I have witnessed our neighborhood grow from 18,000 to more than 75,000 residents, adding immensely to our ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. We have SRO hotels, permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, market-rate buildings and luxury condos side by side.
We are the diverse mixed-income neighborhood that city planners talk about in their community plans. When you talk to people who have lived here for a while, there is a palpable sense of ownership in making DTLA the best it can be. This neighborhood is awesome, but the frenetic growth and community building comes with some real challenges.
We have seen a rise in violent crime while LAPD deployment in DTLA has decreased. Within the past five years, Downtown’s population has increased over 28%, and with it has come a 56% increase in crime as well as a 57% increase in “calls for service.”
In 2018, Central Division (which patrols Downtown) recorded 7,442 Part 1 crimes (the designation for violent and property crimes), up from 6,963 the previous year. In recent years we’ve all seen the shocking stories: an elderly neighbor savagely beaten, homeless individuals killed while they sleep, a local business owner pushed into traffic, resulting in life-threatening injuries.
These incidents may be outliers, but the fact of the matter is, while population, crime and calls for service have gone up, LAPD Central Division deployment has gone down in the past five years. This is not just an issue of public safety; this is about the equitable distribution of city services.
This situation prompted my neighbors and I to form DTLA Strong, a community organizing group that gives residents in Downtown a voice. For too long, the City has assumed that they do not need to invest city services in Downtown. That needs to change.
Our first initiative has been to get more community-minded LAPD foot beats on our streets to address public safety. The solution is not necessarily just about adding more police, it’s advocating for how our police interact with our neighborhood, how they work with us and how they build trust. In our urban environment, we walk everywhere: our places of work, stores, restaurants, public transportation and entertainment. In pedestrian-centric neighborhoods, officers should be out of their patrol cars and walking with us.
This isn’t a novel concept as most major metropolitan cities have foot beats to account for the unique challenges of their dense, urban environments. And a shout-out to Central Division, as they are already strong advocates for community policing. Right now, the Central Division foot beat unit consists of two sergeants and 12 police officers.
The problem is, there are not enough of them, and the ones we have are not a separate dedicated workforce — they are often pulled to cover special and citywide events. Those 12 officers are roughly divided two to a community in the following areas: Chinatown/Little Tokyo, Arts District, Financial District, Historic Core, Fashion District and South Park. (Skid Row has its own separate program.)
DTLA Strong is advocating for an additional eight officers to be added to the Central foot beat unit and who can be deployed strategically by Central Division leadership. When you think of it, 20 foot beat officers for a community of 75,000 residents and more than 500,000 workers is really not a huge ask.
In order to make this ask a reality, we need Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council to make public safety in Downtown a priority — that comes through allocating more funds for foot beats in DTLA in the 2019-20 fiscal year budget, which is being considered now.
Over the years, DTLA has become a regional hub for business, tourism, nightlife, civic life and transportation, yet the budget for the city services and public safety resources that we all deserve has not caught up. Again, while this is a matter of equity in city services, City Hall and its politicians will not act unless residents and, more importantly, voters, demand it.
Join us by signing our petition at dtlastrong.com and speaking out in favor of more foot beats for DTLA at the City Council budget hearing on Tuesday, May 2, at 9 a.m. in City Hall. We need a strong turnout of local friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.
The movement begins right here. So from one lover of DTLA to another, please get involved in your community.
Sara Hernandez is a practicing attorney and co-founder of DTLA Strong. She’s a 10-year resident of DTLA with her husband Keith. They’re expecting their first DTLA baby boy in August.
©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019