Criminal activity ranged from major to minor, from felonies to prostitution, public drunkenness, trespassing, vandalism, theft and on and on
Today, the once crime-ridden area of Los Angeles is a flourishing shopping and tourist mecca

Los Angeles struggled with a rising crime rate. Constant crime plagued the historic area with its well-known tourist attractions, which include TCL Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame.

Criminal activity ranged from major to minor, from felonies to prostitution, public drunkenness, trespassing, vandalism, theft and on and on. Time and budget constraints had forced local police officers into a reactive enforcement mode — the police had their hands full with major crimes and had no time to deal with soft crime. The crime-ridden environment was ruining the quality of life and hurting businesses in the historic Hollywood community.

In 1996, property owners along several blocks of Hollywood Boulevard formed and funded the Hollywood Entertainment District Business Improvement District (BID). “The BID retained a private security firm to police soft crime because the police were completely preoccupied with major crimes,” says Bill Farrar, senior vice president of media and special events and special armed services with Los Angeles-based security firm of Andrews International, LLC. Farrar has directed Andrews International’s efforts to police soft crime in the BID since 2005.

When the program began in the late 1990s, the original security firm hired retired and off-duty police officers, armed them and sent them out on foot patrols from dawn to dusk. The officers made citizens arrests for soft crimes, wrote up police reports and delivered the suspects to the Hollywood Area Police Station.

The program proved successful as private property developers began to return to Hollywood Boulevard. The program’s success led the Hollywood Entertainment District to expand the BID to cover an 18-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard in 1999.

In 2005, the BID put its security contract up for review and decided to go with a new provider — Andrews International. “The BID thought the previous provider was doing a good job but wanted to move up to the next level with a ‘broken windows’ policing program,” Farrar says. (The broken windows theory of criminology holds that monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes, such as vandalism, helps to prevent more serious crimes.)

In addition, the Sunset and Vine BID joined the Hollywood Entertainment BID in 2007, with the goal of bringing the successful program to its communities. The two BIDs have grown steadily over the years. Today, their combined security budget totals $2.3 million dollars annually. Those dollars enable Andrews International to patrol an area spanning eight square miles.

The program proved successful as private property developers began to return to Hollywood Boulevard
Andrews International calls its program CAPS, short for Community Assisted Problem Solving. 

Policing soft crime

Andrews International calls its program CAPS, short for Community Assisted Problem Solving. In 2007, CAPS first year, the program made 2,500 arrests. “About 95 percent of these arrests involved quality of life crimes,” says Farrar. “When we see felonies, we call the police and act as backup for them.”

That procedure also netted a potentially dangerous homicide suspect in 2007. On March 22, a concerned citizen reported seeing a vehicle driven by Ralph Garbarini, a suspected murderer, who had just been featured on the FOX television program “America’s Most Wanted.”

When she spotted the vehicle parked outside her house, she called CAPS headquarters. “We ask that people call the police about major crimes, but they know us and trust us, and so they often call us,” says Farrar. “We called the police and placed the truck under surveillance until they arrived. When the suspect returned to the vehicle, the police made the arrest. In 2008, the second year of the CAPS program, arrests plummeted to 1,707, illustrating the effectiveness of the program. Arrests have continued to decline. Last year, arrests topped out at 1,100.” 

Community Assisted Problem Solving

While enforcement is often necessary, CAPS officers do not focus on enforcement. Instead, the CAPS program emphasises problem solving, bridge building with communities and social responsibility.

“We tell our officers to become part of the community,” Farrar says. “It isn’t necessary to live in the community — though some do — they must work to become part of it by getting to know people and making friends with them.

“Our officers drank that Kool-Aid and started making their own. One day, our guys came across a homeless man. He was dirty, passed out and smelled of alcohol. The officers discovered that the man was a veteran. They cleaned him up and called the Veterans Administration, which took him to a VA hospital.”

Encounters such as this have guided CAPS officers’ problem solving efforts.

Instead of arresting homeless people, they take them to shelters, get them back on medication and help them to find jobs.

Instead of arresting homeless people, they take them to shelters, get them back on medication and help them to find jobs. “We do this kind of homeless outreach every day,” says Farrar. Over nine years, they have placed more than 300 homeless people in permanent supportive housing.

After realising that 60 percent of the program’s arrests involve public drunkenness, CAPS officers have shifted gears. “We’re trying a new response,” Farrar says. “Instead of arresting them, we are referring them to Alcoholics Anonymous.”

That idea has become a general part of CAPS efforts. One of the written duties of officers in the program is to “assist outreach providers in connecting with people who need placement and resources.”

Outreach providers include those providing aid to people with alcohol problems, drug problems, emotional problems and homeless problems.

These efforts — as well as the enforcement work — have created a lasting and close relationship with the communities in the programs eight square mile territory. It is something that both the community and the CAPS officers value. “Private security can help to change communities like this,” says Farrar. “And our work in Hollywood is probably the most meaningful work that any of us have ever done.”

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Michael Fickes End User Correspondent, SecurityInformed.com

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