Councilman asks LAPD chief for special boardwalk police detail to combat ‘a growing criminal element and rising climate of fear’
By Gary Walker
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin is calling on LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to deploy more police officers in Venice to combat what he describes as “an escalating and unacceptable crime problem” generated largely by “aggressive” and services-resistant transients who gather at the boardwalk.
“In recent months there has been a rash of crimes and increasingly brazen home invasions. Residents and business owners report that loud, aggressive and often threatening people are regularly sitting near residential entryways, shouting beneath people’s windows, urinating and defecating in people’s carports. Residents of and visitors to Venice Beach, beach-adjacent walk streets, the neighborhoods near Third Avenue and in the area west of the intersection of Venice Way and Venice Boulevard routinely report being threatened and intimidated,” Bonin wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Beck.
The letter follows a request before the Los Angeles Police Commission “warning of a growing criminal element and rising climate of fear” and a prior letter to Beck last year, Bonin wrote.
Beck’s office did not return calls and LAPD headquarters staff did not respond to requests for Venice-specific crime statistics by press time, instead sending citywide totals.
In an interview this week, Bonin said he is specifically requesting a special police detail for the Venice boardwalk. He said a special police unit assigned to Hollywood and private security hired by merchants of the Hollywood Business Improvement District helped quell similar problems in that community.
Community activist Naomi Nightingale, an informal liaison between the African-American community in Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood and the LAPD’s Pacific Division, is concerned that a special police detail could lead to unintended consequences.
Nightingale began working with police after the August 2012 officer-involved beating of Ronald Weekley Jr., a 20-year-old African-American student stopped for allegedly skateboarding in traffic and who police said resisted arrest. Cell phone camera footage of the incident appeared to show three officers on top of Weekley while one officer struck him numerous times, but a federal court jury ruled against Weekley in a civil lawsuit last year.
The officers who arrested Weekley were part of the LAPD’s Violent Crime Task Force, which had been assigned to the Venice boardwalk area.
“The problem with these outside details and task forces that are assigned to specific locations often find themselves going into residential neighborhoods. They come in on the weekends and are disconnected from what happens during the week. The Ronald Weekley incident is not that far behind us that Mr. Bonin should have forgotten about it,” Nightingale said. “Our officers know the boardwalk. Our officers know the community. What do we need a special task force or a special detail for the Venice boardwalk?”
Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s chief of staff during the Weekley controversy, Bonin said he understands his request may rile some constituents.
“Venice has a very polarized political dialogue on a number of things, and homelessness is one of them. But I have to do everything that I can to get my neighborhood all of the law enforcement that it needs,” he said.
Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association — which is suing to force the city and county to evict what it describes as a “permanent homeless encampment” on Venice Beach — says that violence stemming from the boardwalk has gotten out of hand and is getting worse.
In a recent series of email dispatches, Ryavec details several home-invasion burglaries occurring in Venice this year, including a widely publicized September break-in by a 29-year-old homeless man that sent a woman fleeing to her rooftop as she was pursued by him.
“The councilman’s demand for more police is better late than never,” Ryavec said, but, “one has to wonder how a huge city park that is a tourist destination with over 16 million visitors a year does not have adequate, permanent police staffing.”
Many of the homeless are also being victimized, Bonin writes.
“The perpetrators are largely transients from out of town who eschew the opportunity to sleep at the winter shelter and who are service resistant. This has also caused a frightening dynamic for homeless people in genuine need … [who] report being threatened, intimidated and physically harassed by this aggressive transient population. The situation is out of control and getting worse,” reads Bonin’s letter to Beck.
Ryavec is skeptical that a special police detail alone can change the unwieldy nature of Venice Beach without enforcement of city parks rules that prevent overnight camping there.
“Even additional officers will be for naught if City Attorney [Mike] Feuer does not unshackle the LAPD and let them remove all camping equipment — mattresses, tents, backpacks, sleeping bags and tarps — from the park,” Ryavec said.
Court decisions in April 2006 and June 2013 have prevented Los Angeles police from arresting people solely for sleeping on public streets and, in most cases, from confiscating homeless people’s belongings.
“Let me be clear — I am not asking the LAPD to criminalize homeless,” Bonin’s letter reads. “But we cannot ignore or downplay criminal activity simply because the perpetrators are transients, blending in with the genuinely needy homeless population.”
David Ewing, a Venice resident who has been active in local homelessness issues, said the debate over police enforcement stems from the city’s failure to commit other resources.
“I have not seen an initiative from our council office or any council office to comprehensively address homelessness,” he said.
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