Every September at the Abbot Kinney Festival, the Spirit of Venice Award is given to select individuals who are chosen in honor and recognition of their community service and tireless efforts to improve the quality of life in Venice.
One of this year’s honorees was senior lead officer Theresa Skinner of the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific division. Although she was appreciative of the award and proud to have received it, Skinner felt it was important to acknowledge a whole team of officers who participate in the hard work with her.
Law enforcement was an early interest for Skinner, who received experience as a police explorer at the Garden Grove Police Department and as a police cadet at the Anaheim Police Department. She went to college to broaden her interests and then the Los Angeles riots hit shortly after graduation.
“I thought ‘I want to be there,’” she recalls. “I’ve always had working as a police officer in my heart.”
Skinner said the LAPD has provided structure, and she added that one of the most important things she learned at the Police Academy is the need to be flexible.
“You start off the day pretty much the same but you never know what is going to happen that day or the next,” she says.
As the liaison between the community and the officers, Skinner’s typical day is structured but she does have to allow for some interruptions. Her responsibilities include going out in the field, and depending on the type of complaint, she will have officers meet with her to go over the details. Everything else in between is not planned, such as a radio call for police assistance or having to set up a perimeter for a suspect search.
“There are things that come up with police work during the day that you never know if you’re going to make it to a meeting on time because if it’s a safety issue or an emergency with the public, then I want to be in my area to handle it or at least be there to understand what happened,” she says.
There are also special projects that need attention, she noted. When Skinner previously served as senior lead officer in the beach area, she said one of the big problems was transients sleeping in the open area next to the library on South Venice Boulevard.
“It was never considered a park so the police couldn’t enforce any park laws there,” she says. “People could sleep, drink, be there all night if they wanted.”
Skinner said she went through the steps to classify the area as a park in order to enable the police officers to enforce laws that pertain to a park. Now as senior lead for the Oakwood area, she says the ongoing problems of narcotics and gangs in the neighborhood have kept her busy.
“The narcotic sales and gangs have been embedded in that community for many years,” she says. “It’s hard, as many of the community members are friends and family. You have to be careful how you handle it.”
There was a three-year ongoing investigation in conjunction with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office that resulted in numerous arrests, she noted.
“Although we still have narcotic complaints, it’s not like it used to be,” she says. “I think people feel like they can come out and be themselves and bring their families out and feel safe.”
A question Skinner is asked often is how the community can help the police. “It’s hard to say unless there is a specific issue,” says Skinner. The best way for the community to help is to be the eyes and ears for the department and make reports, she says.
Another important suggestion is for the community to help push for new laws, Skinner said.
“I’m a police officer,” she says. “I can’t change the laws. It’s the community getting together and working together to either create a new way or change something they don’t like.”
An example she uses is the Westminster Dog Park, which she said was controversial when the idea first came up because dog lovers wanted it, but neighbors didn’t.
“The people who wanted it had a plan and they were going to do what they could do to make it a place that wouldn’t bother the neighbors,” she says. “Once the plans were developed and they figured out how they would work together, it happened.”
There are numerous actions people can make themselves to provide safety, she said, the first recommendation being to get to know your neighbors.
“We’ve gotten away from being neighborly,” she says. “It’s important that people understand some of the issues in their neighborhood and they should form a neighborhood watch.”
This is true of the many new residents. “People need to realize more what the culture is like in Venice prior to moving here,” she says. “Venice has always been a place where the transient population has been somewhat accepted,” she adds. “You can’t move to Venice and think that they’re just not going to be here.”
“There’s a lot to be said about environmental design and preventing crime,” says Skinner. Light is important – whether cutting back a tree or installing sensor lights on homes and garages, and alley lights are also beneficial, she said.
For residents who prefer dark streets, Skinner suggests putting up bushes or plants against the windows so intruders can’t get in.
Skinner said that preventing fear is something that drives her.
“People are in my heart and soul and I want to solve problems and reduce fear in their lives,” she says. “I don’t ever want my mom and grandmother to be afraid; I feel the same way for the public. I would expect any police officer to act like they were responding to a family member’s call.”