Looking to make LA's City Parks a place of refuge
Prompted by a number of recent violent incidents, and an awareness
that the residents of Los Angeles are uncomfortable in many of the
City's parks, Police Commissioner David Cunningham, assisted by
Commissioner Silvia Saucedo, has been creating a plan with the Los
of Recreation and Parks for both short term and long term solutions.
Now that the summer is here, the short term plan includes a variety
of elements. There will be an immediate deployment of high profile
mounted police to about 20 designated parks. In addition 47 parks
will shortly open "drop-in centers" or "safe houses"
designed to help residents find security resources.
In providing park security, Los Angeles has a huge job on its hands
... there are 395 separate parks, recreation centers and beaches
to patrol. The Department of Recreation and Parks has a security
force itself, but it consists of a meager compliment of 35 unarmed
Rangers and 10 supervisors. These officers can not possibly
be held responsible for keeping nearly 400 parks and recreational
In fact, park security comes under the purview of LAPD itself, and
each Division currently assigns a Park Safety Officer, usually a
Sergeant, who, along with his or her several other important duties,
is charged with coordinating the local plan to patrol parks and
respond to requests for help.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Griffith Park, which is itself
a Basic Car Area and thus has one dedicated black and white unit,
LAPD can not provide officers devoted specifically to park security
duties ... so this becomes the responsibility of the local basic
Long term plans will need to include designing a method of insuring
park security on a less haphazard basis. The City may be divided
into several regions, in which the Department can deploy specific
patrol units and other resources dedicated specifically to keeping
the parks, recreation centers and beaches safe.
But the community may well need to take an active role, too.
A community based response - "Adopt A Park"
Ernest E. Debs Park is almost 300 acres of largely open space, its
rolling hills traversed with paths and fire roads. The flora and
fauna and a nice hilltop pond attract many people to the area who
wish to escape the asphalt and cement of the city ... but there
are other "improved sections" too, with parking lots,
picnic tables, bathrooms and sidewalks ... places where families
and community groups can gather.
Several years ago, I belonged to a community group called "Friends
of Debs Park" and I perceived that the park had a security
problem. I looked into how security was being handled at that time,
and ended up establishing relationships with the local Park Rangers,
individuals from LAPD and members of the Fire Department. Sure enough,
although all these groups had official security duties regarding
the park, there were serious problems coordinating their efforts,
and making them effective.
First of all, I found that only two Park Rangers were expected
to patrol not only Debs but some 95 area facilities, an impossible
task! Then, I discovered that the LAPD Basic Car responsible for
patrolling the Debs area did not have a key to the several gates
which block vehicle access to upper regions. Finally, I found that
the Fire Dept required that fire roads and certain paths be maintained
at a minimum width, so that their vehicles could have good access
and be able to maneuver to combat brush fires.
It was obvious that if we wanted a safe and attractive park the
community was going to have to become involved.
So, in effect, I adopted Debs, and devised a plan whereby local
residents, park users themselves, could assist.
First, a campaign was instituted to explain the process of how security
was currently being handled. To do this, a simple pamphlet-like
flyer was produced, which listed contact names and phone numbers
of Park Rangers, Police and Fire Department personnel.
Next, I created what I called an "Incident Report" form,
a one page flyer that was distributed in a variety of ways ... at
Neighborhood Watch groups, at community meetings in the areas surrounding
Debs Park, as a form available on the local Improvement Association
website, and through the "Friends of Debs Park" committee
The pamphlet explained that the Incident Report was to be used to
furnish information that did not rise to the level of an immediate
need for assistance. The use of 911 was of course recommended if
residents became aware of any emergency, anything violent, anything
immediately threatening or to report a live fire.
But for other less serious, non-emergency things they'd use the
form. Common uses were to report nuisances, reporting observations
about observed activity that had already occurred, and reporting
about quality of life issues.
The local residents were invited to use the form to send the information
back to me so that our efforts could be coordinated and there could
be some follow through (NOTE: this was in the days before the Senior
Lead Officers were issued cell phones).
In other words, I offered to act as an informed liaison, and the
reporting person could remain anonymous if they preferred.
The form was simplicity itself, but it did request the information
forwarded be as specific as possible.
It looked something like this:
OF DEBS PARK
Incident Report - Debs Park and Vicinity
(all information will be kept confidential)
_ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ = _ =
_ = _ = _ = _ = _ =
Date & Time of Incident: _______________________________________
Location of Incident: _________________________________________
Description of Incident:
(be as detailed as possible with descriptions of individuals,
Return this form to Security Committee:
Bill Murray, 4005 Sinova St, LA 90031
323 / 225-6393 (phone and fax)
Residents could fax these reports to me, mail them, leave them in
my mailbox, or could simply call me and I'd fill the form out over
the phone for them. If the Incident Report came to me by fax or
in the mail, I'd phone the community member for more details. I'd
encourage each of them to give me permission to use their name as
a contact person for the report ... but I'd also offer a resident
the option of keeping them anonymous from law enforcement authorities,
if that is what they preferred.
There was a significant educational element to these calls, because
during each conversation I used the opportunity to explain a little
bit about how local security was handled. I talked about how the
Park Rangers, LAPD and the Fire Dept worked. I gave out phone numbers.
Specifically, I let them know how to get in touch with the Division
and our Senior Lead Officer, and explained his relationship to the
The program generated Incident Reports on many different non-emergency
topics. Excessive drinking, suspicious people, stolen cars, open
fires, people sleeping in the park, illegal use of dirtbikes, graffiti
on live trees were all reported ... and there were even a couple
of occasions where local youngsters thought it would be OK to go
"hunting" in the park, and took their 22 rifles up into
Anytime I helped a community member by transferring info to the
proper authorities, I'd do follow up with them, letting the resident
know the results of their reporting.
Over time we began to notice a marked improvement in the park, as
residents began to feel a sense of "ownership" and responsibility
Today Ernest E. Debs Park is a wonderful example of an inner-city
park, so much so that the Audubon Society has a plan to establish
a major Nature Center there. They will invite children from around
the city to visit, attend classes and lectures, experience hands-on
nature workshops and go on hikes through the parks 300 acres of
rolling wild hills.
Securing the parks will take a combined effort
With the tiny unarmed Ranger Staff from Recreation and Parks,
and LAPD already stretched to the limit for resources in every area,
it stands to reason that the plan to ensure safe parks will have
to be an effort which includes the community in a significant way.
But it need not be overcomplicated.
Fairly quickly, a relatively simple program can be devised where
volunteer residents, park users themselves, can become intimately
involved. The program should include training about how to use already
available resources, the issuing of a little specially prepared
literature, and then the assigning of local parks, recreation centers
and beaches to informed community members who live in the immediate
These trained volunteer park security liaison residents would in
turn engage their neighbors to use them as a resource to keep the
parks safe, secure and attractive for the community.