Angered by a law enforcement operation that descended upon their neighborhood in the early morning hours and in some cases forcibly into their homes, residents of the Oakwood section of Venice have sought answers from those involved in the operation.
Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Narcotics Abatement Unit and Pacific Area Gang Enforcement, with the assistance of seven outside law enforcement agencies, raided homes in the Oakwood area early Tuesday, February 19th, seeking suspects in the sale of narcotics and firearms.
The operation, known as “Operation Oakwood,” led to the arrest of 19 alleged members of the Venice Shoreline Crips gang and their associates and the recovery of shotguns, pistols and rifles, police said.
The raid was part of an effort by local and federal authorities to crack down on gang-controlled properties throughout the city. Authorities allege that gang members and their associates have used the Oakwood Recreation Center as a base of operation for narcotics sales.
The neighborhood raid was the result of a five-month investigation of alleged narcotics and gun trafficking by the Shoreline Crips and their associates, authorities said.
But at recent Venice community meetings, residents in the neighborhood have expressed their outrage at the way the operation was conducted and the actions of the law enforcement agencies involved. Some residents who attended a community meeting at the Oakwood Recreation Center February 28th said that in addition to being startled in the middle of the night, they were stunned to see that officers broke their doors down while searching for the suspects.
Others said that guns were pointed at them during the raid and that the people the police were looking for had not been living at the location for years.
“I was really shocked and couldn’t believe this was happening,” resident Mae Phillips said of a police raid on her home.
Phillips, 75, said she heard a crash at 5 a.m. and saw that officers had broken through her door. The officers told Phillips to wait outside while they looked for someone, but she told them that person did not live in the house anymore.
Angered by the incident, Phillips said there are ways for the police to conduct the operation other than “breaking down doors.” The police have since repaired the door, she said.
Phillips’ son Stan Muhammad, a Venice Neighborhood Council member, also said the operation, which created a “frenzy” in the community, should have been handled differently.
“It’s not the best tactics going into the houses at 5 a.m.,” said Muhammad, co founder of Venice 2000, a gang-intervention organization that works with at-risk youths in the local area. “They should’ve known that certain people weren’t living in these houses.”
Representatives of the LAPD Pacific Area, including the commanding officer, Capt. Joseph Hiltner, attended the February 28th meeting to explain the operation and listen to community concerns. Police have defended the operation, saying they gathered intelligence over the five-month investigation that identified the suspects and locations that were allegedly used as “safe havens” for selling drugs.
“We have to react and we have a commitment to the public to rout these people out and find out what’s going on,” said Detective Roger Gilbert, of the LAPD Pacific Narcotics Abatement Unit.
“Unfortunately there are some people who have to suffer,” he added, referring to the residents of the homes who are caught in the middle.
Police recognize that the situation is “tough for the family,” as the suspects are bringing their troubles back to the home, Gilbert said.
Police had received “fresh evidence” as to the location of the suspects, including addresses listed for receiving mail and places where the suspects had recently been seen, he said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who attended the February 28th meeting, said he was disturbed to learn of the residents’ experiences during the raid.
“We need to come up with a strategy so that in the future, the community and the police authorities are on the same wave length,” Rosendahl told the audience.
Residents are understanding that police showed up at their door because of the address information police received and they are taking steps to have the names of people not living at the homes removed from police records, Gilbert noted.
Muhammad said one way to move forward with community and police relations is to have a change in policy. The Neighborhood Council member said he is working to create a council committee to address the issue.
Rabbi Allen Freehling, executive director of the city Human Relations Commission, who helped facilitate the community meeting, recommended that a task force be formed to open up the “lines of communication” between community members and law enforcement agencies.
The Human Relations Commission was instrumental in facilitating a gang task force for the Watts community which has been effective in creating dialogue between the groups involved, Freehling said. A similar task force could prove to be successful in Venice, he said.