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Published on February 5th, 2016 | by Reporters Desk

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Activists Ask Garcetti and Beck:

Are You Listening?

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Photo by Phillip Cooke
The Los Angeles Forum on Crime at the Warner Grand Theatre on Feb. 4 was not just intended to be an opportunity for San Pedro to sound off on opening the Harbor Division jail or getting more police officers on the streets. It was also intended as an opportunity for Chief Charlie Beck to burnish the image of the Los Angeles Police Department in a context in which both the image of his leadership and the image of police as public servants have been taking a beating.

This was made abundantly clear at the “No Excuses” rally in the parking lot of LAPD’s Harbor Division on Jan. 30.

Cmdr. Phillip Tingirides of the LAPD South Bureau and Sgt. Catherine Plows spoke directly to public relations problem police officers face both locally and nationally even as they were effusive in the praise of the community for coming together in support of their police officers.

“This is a cop’s dream,” Tingirides said at the rally. “Think about it…every time you turn on the TV all you see is cop bashing.”

Plows sounded a similar note.

“When you look at the different rallies that are held across the country right now, how many are out there for police support?” Plows asked rhetorically. “Not many. This is really a phenomenon, at least here in California.”

The Los Angeles Police Protective league attended in support of the rally, but also to push its most recent attack against Beck, calling him out on the alleged dismantlement of the department’s Parole Compliance Unit—“alleged” because the LAPD media relations department, and by extension Beck. would neither confirm or deny that he dismantled the unit as of press time Feb. 3.

Councilman Joe Buscaino, who recalled staffing the jail when it was briefly opened while he was an officer, suggested that the jail was going to be soon opened anyway. He believes that some things could be done now to put more officers on the street.

“This was one of the reasons I ran for this office,” Buscaino said. “These are the frustrations that we hear today.”

Buscaino said opening the jail has been his main priority every year he has served on the council.

“My main priority for each budget year was opening this jail and staffing it with detention officers,” Buscaino said. “We have created a pathway to ensure that this jail is staffed … that’s a major success in the last couple of years.”

Buscaino explained that the jail hasn’t opened sooner because of the length of time it takes to attract and train new detention officers.

“When you staff and hire detention officers you have to advertise the positions and they have to go through the academy,” Buscaino said. “The department tells me that they first have to move the sworn officers out of the metropolitan jail, which numbers 70 or so. Once they move the sworn officers out of the metropolitan jail, I was told that the Harbor jail is their priority.”

There were also those who are livid at the perceived deterioration in the quality of life due to the presence of homeless encampments and homeless people and their perceived connection to the increase in crime in the Harbor Division.

For better or for worse, the link among these ideas is a belief that city government has neglected its seaside community.

Saving San Pedro member, George Palaziol, said as much during the rally. “We need to show our local politicians that this is something we hold near and dear to our hearts,” Palaziol said. “We need to come together and show that we mean business. If there are some people in office not willing to provide that for us then we will put somebody in there that will.”

Saving San Pedro started off as Facebook hashtag following after the emergence of homeless encampments around the old Ante’s restaurant and the short-lived Tiny Homes San Pedro project last summer. But aside from Palaziol’s heated rhetoric, the issue of homelessness or rather the high visibility of homelessness was negligible compared to the general sense of neglect by city government—past and current elected included.

Other contingents at the rally included activists who have fighting to shut down the Rancho LPG tanks for the past decade and the local realtor backed group, the Los Angeles Waterfront Access and Redevelopment Coalition, which is frustrated by the direction of Waterfront Development.

This is a cascade of interests for the same thing which is the betterment of the community across the board,” said Janet Gunter, member of the San Pedro Peninsula Homeowners United, the original Saving San Pedro group that began challenging Rancho LPG more than a decade ago.

“We may not interpret everything in exactly the same way, it shows that everybody is concerned about what’s going on in the community, and they see [the community] as being on the decline in multiple ways.”

She noted that the Porter Ranch gas leak has really drawn a lot of attention and local residents are now wondering what’s inside Rancho LPG’s tanks.

“That’s good,” Gunter said. “We’ve got elevation in crime. That’s significant and has been publicized. So, people are saying, ‘what’s up with that and why?’ When you start to look around, you see the reasons why. It’s basic neglect. So this year, we’re all on the same page and that’s a good thing.”

The vice president of the San Pedro-Wilmington NAACP Branch 1069, Joe Gatlin, echoed similar sentiments.

“The exciting thing about this is [that] this is an issue the whole community believes in,” Gatlin said. “When I was the president of the neighborhood council 10 or 15 years ago, this was the same issue. It hasn’t changed.”

Gatlin served as the president of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood council during the mid-2000s.

“We lost officers 15 years ago because crime had [gone] down,” Gatlin said. “Then we have a homeless situation and we have a lot of businesses shuttered down and it’s getting worse.

“But when big budgets are made and they see that crime is going down in the Harbor, they take everything from us. Now crime is going up again.”

Community leader and restaurateur John Papadakis blames unions and city government.

“We must maximize public access and maximize commercial opportunity,” Papadakis said. “We have no commercial businesses here. It breeds crime.”

Papadakis recalled driving down Gaffey, one of the busiest streets in town, and noted that on both sides of the street that there were homeless people just waking up in the doorways of shuttered businesses.

“Commercial businesses ensure safety because people take care of their businesses and won’t allow the criminal element around it,” Papadakis said. “San Pedro has given itself over to the criminal element and the homelessness due to the fact that businesses are dying and going elsewhere. They let them die because they won’t create a seaside, they won’t create a people-friendly seaside.”

Papadakis was referring to local government and the ILWU in his all encompassing “they.”

“The union’s misjudged this whole matter,” Papadakis said. “They tried to pit union officials against people who want development by saying their jobs would suffer if the port invests in public use infrastructure and what would turn this area around…i.e. public access, businesses along the waterline, grand public attractions.”

Papadakis noted we only need to look to Long Beach for an example of a skyline that matches the crane-line.

“We see a port that competes with us in cargo movement but it’s also a great destination,” Papadakis said. “We need to follow that, but we don’t want to because the people with power… big government and big unions don’t want to give it up. And they punish us economically to keep us on our knees. That’s what breeds this problem of crime and lack of police.”

Speakers at the rally made repeated calls to stay united in spirit and purpose as they move forward in holding elected officials accountable. The Saving San Pedro social media hub started off as a severe reaction by a subset of the community to the homeless encampments sprouting out of nowhere in town.

Back then, their vision was small and limited to questions of who belonged and who didn’t and social media pages a space for harassment as exemplified by online attacks on Helping Those In Need founder, Nora Hilda-Vela and homeless people who have committed no crime other than simply being visible in public spaces. An exacting of a reactionary San Pedro brand of justice.

The “No Excuses” Rally looked like an unveiling of a new coalition of interest groups—a coalition with subtly differing views on addressing homelessness, but on the same page, that quality of life in this town has deteriorated.

The featured speakers at the forum include Beck, Police Commission president Matthew Johnson and Tingirides. But the real question is whether City Hall and every layer of government governing the Los Angeles Harbor Area are listening.

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