What Would We Do If We Were Not Afraid?

 

“Someone has justly remarked, that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’ Let the sentinels on the watch-tower sleep not, and slumber not.”

Dear Current and Prospective Compton Elected Officials:

This is for all to weigh-in on if you choose. Anyone who speaks to this issue deserves support and votes.

I partnered with other local nonprofits to analyze overall murder and sheriff use of force (UOF) in Compton and am very concerned with what we found. The analysis left me to wonder if there is a code of silence and acquiescence among the elected and non-elected officials in Compton that preclude their scrutiny and involvement with crime and policing in the city. It certainly appears that way. There has never been a written, objective report made public on sheriff performance under the Municipal Law Enforcement Services Agreement between the county and city of Compton.

On top of 675 homicides in Compton since 2000, there is the problem of deputy use of force (UOF) killings, 30 over the same period, which I believe encourages a climate of distrust for and fear of police which in turn makes it difficult if not impossible to address crime problems all over Compton. Moreover, there were 188 murders in neighboring Willowbrook over the same period that included five Deputy involved killings such as Jose De la Trinidad in November 2012.

Eighty-four percent (564) of murder victims were between 18 and 49 years old, 325 Black, 205 Latino. Blacks are 35% of Compton’s population but 60% of homicide victims, moreover, the rate of Blacks murdered decline much slower than that for Latinos as both groups age (see chart below).

Most deaths occur between 18 and 24 (265) for both Blacks and Latinos, drop somewhat between 25 and 34 (167), and somewhat again between 35 and 49 (132). Sixty percent of murder victims are male between 18 and 34, ordinarily years when young adults are expected to be productive citizens for self and community, to start work careers and families, to aid civilly and become community assets and not liabilities.

Comparably fewer children under 18 are murdered (80) and their numbers have declined since 2009. Mentor programs are good but its benefit must carry over into later age stages. More attention needs to focus on the 18 to 24 age group possibly in the form of vocational opportunities, remedial education, habilitation and life-skills and home training. Active, even formal, partnering with CUSD, Compton El Camino College, and especially the private business sector could improve this situation.

 

675 homicides in Compton since from 2000 to 2014
Age group Latino Black Other Total Tot % Latino % Black %
0 to 5 1 5 6 0.01 0.17 0.83
6 to 11 0 3 3 0.00 0.00 1.00
12 to 17 29 40 2 71 0.11 0.41 0.56
18 to 24 120 129 16 265 0.39 0.45 0.49
25 to 34 53 101 13 167 0.25 0.32 0.60
35 to 49 32 95 5 132 0.20 0.24 0.72
50 to 64 7 22 29 0.04 0.24 0.76
65+ 1 7 8 0.01 0.13 0.88
243 402 36 675 1 0.36 0.60
Compton population
Latino   62,669 0.65
Black   33,786 0.35
Total   96,455

 

For sure sheriff deputy shooting and arresting those in the 18 to 34 age groups has not helped solve the problem but have contributed to wariness and unease between law enforcement and the Compton community. Perhaps the sheriff can add to its service toolbox by using means other than arrest and UOF within Compton.

Homicide and overall crime have decreased in recent years but as a percentage of killings, officer involved slayings have increased proportionally. From 2000 to 2006 homicides in L. A. County ranged between 1074 and 1231, officer-involved killings were from 2.5% to 4.5% of those totals. Since 2007, officer involved homicides have averaged 6% of total deaths.

A review of public and news media records show several disturbing trends that include law enforcement’s inability to adequately address the concerns and actions of people exhibiting mental illness and/or intoxication. That includes when police are called to the scene to prevent suicide; the inability to fairly, safely, and humanely treat and protect people with disabilities; the fear, hatred and/or distrust that exists on both sides between law enforcement and youth of color; the repeated use of “reached for waistband” and “feared for my life” as evidence for the need to shoot; the high number of people who were shot while running away from police; the criminalization and violent response to homeless people or those perceived as such; the failure of law enforcement to listen to and use family and community support to prevent violence; the high number of incidents where police shot at automobiles; the high number of “replica” gun assertions; the high numbers of people shot while possessing a “weapon” other than a gun including rocks, tree branches and poles; and, the high number of incidents that began with domestic disputes or violence which indicated a need for alternative responses in dealing with familial relationships.

Compton was not immune to UOF incidents. I do not believe that the current approach to policing Compton by its self will satisfy the goals of reducing crime, reducing resident fear of crime and sheriff deputies, and satisfy victims that justice is done. Surveillance cameras in high use throughout Compton adhere to the old ineffective incident driven and response-after-the-fact mode of policing. That approach aligns with the familiar motorized patrols in which deputies respond to calls for service and try to deter, or prevent crime with high visibility, random patrol, and generally applied intensive enforcement and arrest policies, suppression policing.

While that method might work in Rolling Hills Estates, Diamond Bar, Lakewood or other areas serviced by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) it has not worked in Compton and the time is now to expect more. More can and should be required of deputies to deal with problems before harm is done. Good preventative police work is meeting citizen or resident needs and expectations and the desired outcome is to make people feel safe in their own community. Displays of coercive force, shootings for example, compromise feelings of trust and undermine police legitimacy in the perception of many in Compton particularly Blacks.

On a positive note, since 2009 we see that homicides for victims under 17 continue to decline. That year Avery Cody (16) was killed by deputies and Danny Faber (18) by alleged gang members. Faber’s death motivated a local nonprofit to develop the Wall of Shame and drew attention to the problem of murder in Compton. Since then the average is one death per year for children under 18. Killings of children under 18 averaged six per year in the five years from 2005 to 2009. Zero homicides in Compton is the target goal.

It may be a good idea to continue to focus on youth programming in the area of mentors and otherwise as we see that homicides for victims under 18 continue to decline, contrary to the expectation and belief that the city is overrun by adolescent gangs. After school programs might have contributed to the decline also. Art and sport programs are good for keeping youth healthy and active. For example, a local baseball nonprofit has a long history involving Compton youth in baseball and nurturing them into adulthood around that sport, and that’s definitely not the Urban Baseball Academy whose focus never was nor will be on Compton’s youth. To establish a Boys and Girls Club that is centrally located and public transportation accessed, at Willowbrook Avenue and Compton Blvd. for example, is worth a try.

Sheriff Deputies have killed at least 30 people in Compton since the first one, Hardis Lorenzo Howard in November 2001 and last Mayra Cornejo, December 2014. In only six (20%) have the shooting deputy or deputies been identified. Contrary to general disclosure throughout L.A.County, there is a pattern of not disclosing deputy names in Compton. Shooters are however identified for the following decedents:

Ricardo Badillo                                   01/24/09

Darren Dwaine Burley                        08/13/12

Joshua Maravilla                                 10/27/08

Jose Toloza                                          11/14/12

Gene Valdez                                       04/26/09

Felipe Valdovinos                               09/20/09

Deputy Mark Coberg was involved in three UOF killings in Compton. Deputy Jamie Juarez was involved in one and also in a non fatal shooting in Compton on 09/09/11. Deputy Eric Moreno was involved in one Compton killing and in a non fatal shooting in Industry on 12/16/11. Deputies Steve Fernandez and John Werner were involved in Compton UOF killings and one non fatal shooting on 10/24/12. Deputy Salvador Esquivel was involved in two non fatal UOF shootings in Compton on 05/13/12 and 07/01/12.

Twenty-four people were killed in which the deputies have not been identified. The dead are:

James Anthony Barnett                      01/28/03

Stacey Garcia                                      12/14/13          (died in crash from suspect pursuit)

Larry Gilmore                                     12/14/13          (died in crash from deputy pursuit)

Robert Delgadillo                               12/14/13          (died in crash from deputy pursuit)

Sara Paynter                                        12/14/13          (died in crash from deputy pursuit)

Mayra Cornejo                                    12/13/14

Dewayne Davenport                           01/28/03

Manuel Ernest Garcia                         07/09/03

Cephas Hendricks                               04/23/04

Craig Jacobi Hill                                 09/07/06

Howard Lorenzo Hardis                     11/10/01

Antoine Hunter                                   06/24/14

Luis Alonzo Juarez                             07/25/13

Deangelo Lopez                                  06/27/13

Rayshawn Marquis                             05/23/13

Brice Everette Ross                            04/04/03

Efren Pineda                                       02/06/05

Auturo Saldana                                   01/06/04

Avalard Saldana                                 01/05/04

Juan Serna                                           06/24/12

Lawrence Ronnell Taylor                    08/01/06

Freddie Davis                                     02/17/06

Bryan Davis                                        06/26/08

Maximino Reyes                                 09/13/03

Since 2007 sheriff deputies have killed 143 throughout L.A. County, including those above and, generally, the UOF shooter is identified except for Compton.

It’s important to know who is working for LASD in Compton at all times. The city can start with publicly identifying those assigned to work at Compton station.

Since 2007, sheriff deputies killed eleven people in the city. Regardless of whether deputy shootings are justified in both the state attorney general and county district attorney’s view, the community has a right to know who the shooters are and to examine to see what, if any, patterns exist. Some of us are seeking this information from Sheriff McDonald.

It is officer involved shootings and the manner in which deputies go about their day to day activities that affect the level of trust by community members. The culture of insularity that typically surrounds many police and sheriff agencies, especially during controversial episodes, makes it difficult to know exactly how widespread is the problem of trigger-happy deputies.

Citywide surveillance cameras, acoustic gunshot detectors (ASAP), body cameras, toys that look like guns, community academies, and Crime Stopper programs fall far short of the fundamental need to invest trust in those whose job it is to protect us. That requires an entirely different kind of police work.

Trust leads people to cooperate voluntarily with deputies. The key to gaining public trust lies in the manner in which deputies interact with residents. That manner of interaction is affected by the agency’s philosophy and service approach starting with its leadership. For example Chief Sanchez of Pasadena PD (www.ci.pasadena.ca.us/Police) has installed many of the practices discussed in this letter. Chief Shelly Zimmerman has signaled improved policing in San Diego.

LASD should work to reduce fear of crime, fear of deputies, and deputies fear of working in Compton. Fear of crime forces people off the streets and narrows the sense of control and responsibility, the antithesis of a vibrant city with a sense of community. Fear of crime is strongest among young people and made worse when street gangs thrive and prey. Fear reduction should be an objective of LASD through more sustained contacts with residents and by transparent consultation and joint planning with the larger county service apparatus (E.g. healthcare and other human services) as well as City Hall.

Compton has limited resources, evidenced by the condition of its roads and dearth of youth and young adult oriented designs, and has various problems, but it must be willing to try different things. One way is to leave setting priorities and means for achieving them largely with residents and deputies that serve them. This calls for a special deputy, one that’s willing and able to share responsibility for control with community members. The coercive potential of police remains but power is guided and its use evaluated by resident directive. Proverbs 1:5 tells us that a wise man will hear, and will increase learning… By listening to residents, new policing priorities are produced.

LASD performance must be measured by efforts to develop partnership with community members and civic organizations that represent them collectively, not by the amount of time spent before an assemblage of video surveillance monitors or waiting for signals from gunshot detection technology at headquarters.

LASD has to take seriously Compton’s definition of its own problems defined as recurring sets of related harmful events in a community that members of the public expect deputies to address. Those might include problems that escape deputy attention such as street doughnuts and running through stop signs and red lights, graffiti, loud cussing and music, litter and dumping, public marijuana use, loitering and hanging out in public spaces, sex trafficking, gang intimidation, pissing on toilet seats, or parking problems in overcrowded neighborhoods, nuisances that aggravate and keep community members on edge and tempers short.

To take Compton problems seriously may mean finding out what is known about the problem. Was it researched and if so with what results? Is all there is to know known about the problem and is it a proper concern of government? What resources and authority are requisite to dealing with the problem? How is the response, whether old or new, to be evaluated? What changes might result organizationally from implementing a more effective response?

Compton4COPS is not optimistic that LASD is up for the challenge or effort needed to engage and involve Compton residents to co-produce community safety. Its track record is not good and LASD seems more comfortable “chasing the box” in radio cars, whining about how Compton residents refuse to give them crime leads, how the community bashes them, or won’t support and use Crime Stoppers, won’t attend or accept community academies designed to show what police do, as if the community is blind to what they see and experience every day. There are too few, but some within the ranks take it upon themselves and develop new channels for learning about neighborhood problems. Since their effort is extraordinary, goes unrewarded (and is even castigated), and unacknowledged in the agency, the problem response systems are ineffective.

City officials sometime voice support for LASD with no objective data or community feedback to support their assertions. Was it due to arrest numbers? Suppression policing? What? It is not enough to voice satisfaction with sheriff services and not describe the reasons for that support.

Let’s face it, the daily routine of LASD in Compton does not involve heavy engagement with the public except with known felons or suspected gang members, especially in neighborhoods where deputies are assigned. For LASD to legitimize itself beyond the contract agreement it has with city officials, deputies must show concern for resident well being through inquiry, none of which can occur without face time. In other words, LASD, with leadership from city hall, must go the extra mile to mitigate among Blacks and Latinos in Compton the perception that they are brutal and corrupt.

Would a broader policing scope increase LASD workload? Yes. Are there benefits to the community for them to do so? Likely, but won’t become known until it’s tried on a sustained basis. Will the way be difficult? Absolutely since many in Compton are suspicious of their own neighbors and fear retaliation by street cliques, pimps, drug dealers, and others, many in the 18 to 39 age groups, the very definition of at-risk, that are hell-bent on self and community destruction. Will it cost more? Probably. The trick is to carefully define and measure the results of added inputs.

Some, particularly Blacks, see deputies as one of their problems and not as a solution to them.

Police work is hard, especially in “fast” cities like Compton and this proposal would make it much harder than patrolling neighborhoods on the lookout for criminal activity or admonishing community members for not attending community police academies to find out more about so-called real police work.

Below are ten community-oriented recommendations for policing in Compton that should fall comfortably within your May 2014, “agreement” for “general law enforcement services,” since, as we saw in the February 2, 2015 NAEJA meeting, a raucous one with newly elected sheriff Jim McDonnell, community members clearly state their distrust of law enforcement, especially sheriff deputies.

The content herein along with recommendations later can serve as a start to develop a contracts monitoring unit to assess and publicly report performance of all city contracts but particularly for the sheriff. You should consider a monitoring instrument that captures and measures the expectations of the city for law enforcement. For example, time LASD spends executing and documenting results of plans to solve problems identified by community organizations, residents, and groups, or measures of resident satisfaction with sheriff services in selected council or sheriff reporting districts.

The time is now for Compton to enact solutions.

Recommendation #1

Have all incoming sheriff personnel, civilian and sworn, appear before a Tuesday council meeting to introduce themselves; give some background; explain why he or she wants to work in Compton; and, speak to what added value Compton will receive from him or her.

Discussion: From April 2009 to November 2011, Deputy Michael Coberg killed three people in Compton in separate incidents. It is unclear if he was assigned to Compton Station or was part of other specialized units that migrate in and out of the city such as the Gang Enforcement Team, some of whom were associated with the rouge Jump Out Boys. Between October 2008 and October 2010, Deputy Julio Jove killed two people in neighboring Lynwood and one in Long Beach in separate incidents. It’s not clear what unit or station he was assigned to.

Deputies who killed sixteen people in Compton between January 2001 and December 2014 have not been identified. Again, this is not a question of whether shootings were justified but of our right to know who works in the city and what they do while there.

Recommendation #2

Have the station captain, not someone lower; describe, with all requisite forms, the LASD complaint and commendation process on the projection screen during a Tuesday council meeting. Sample form handouts should be available. The presentation must include all avenues for filing complaints or commendations, E.g. Internet. The presentation must include available recourse if the complainant is not satisfied or feels unsatisfactorily serviced.

Discussion: Residents once again complained that they were discouraged from filing a complaint at Compton Station during the February 2, 2015 NAEJA meeting. This is a chronic complaint that the sheriff’s department has failed to address over the years. At that same meeting one individual complained how deputies refused him a business card upon request that would have helped him file a complaint.

Recommendation #3

Have the station captain give no less than bi-weekly updates to council during regularly scheduled public meetings to include at minimum:

  1. a) Crime hotspots and what strategies are used to address them. Hot-spots include the quality of life issues residents are vociferous about.
  2. b) Describe and report on any crime prevention activities and/or new initiatives developed with residents and businesses to mitigate crime in Compton.
  3. c) Crime statistics, both current and year-to-date for Part I and Part II crimes and any other law enforcement issues deemed important and of interest of council members and residents (Eg. Quality of life concerns are what residents demand most). The report must include attainment or non attainment of service deployment measures described in section 3.3 of the “agreement”.
  4. d) Report the number and types of complaints/commendations received current and year-to-date.
  5. e) Report the number of force incidents, fatal and non-fatal separate, current and year-to-date.
  6. f) Identify special teams or units operating within the borders of Compton and their purpose along with the results of them having been there.
  7. g) Report outcomes from the use of surveillance cameras that are now spread throughout the city in terms of arrests made and crime prevented.

The captain’s report to council should include a written summary to be used by local newspapers to keep residents informed.

Recommendation #4

The Compton city council members must, through or preferably with the city manager, actively monitor and report on sheriff performance and act as a liaison or conduit to field resident complaints and see them through to resolution.

Recommendation #5

Address community and family member concerns immediately after deputy UOF that results in death.

Maintain fairness and withhold judgment. After the incident, don’t disparage the victim, their family, or community. Too often, law enforcement gives cookie cutter responses such as the person was armed; he pointed a gun at officers; she was on parole; or, was a gang member. Similar comments are usually made after an incident before the investigation. Often the information is incorrect and no correction or official apology is issued afterward but the damage to community trust and re-victimization of the family is lasting. It is preferable to give the same verbiage that accompanies deputy misconduct or excessive UOF, “…we cannot comment because the incident is under investigation.” Be clear that officers involved in force actions leading to death are removed from field duty pending the investigation.

Recommendation #6

Hold community meetings directly after the UOF incident called by family members, trusted intervention workers, clergy and/or community-based organizations to air community concerns and answer questions.

Discussion: City ordinance #1551, §2357 created a public safety commission that seems non functional but could be used to monitor and evaluate LASD performance within Compton. Part of its charge is to:

  • Receive and process information received from individuals and/or groups that depicts a concern or problem in the area of public safety and,
  • Make recommendations to the Council regarding public safety concerns that have been brought to the attention of the commission.

The commission has failed miserably since its members, whoever they are, have missed opportunities to gather concerns at monthly community meetings devoted to this topic where residents gather. Moreover, the city attorney as chief law enforcement officer and the city manager of Compton neither attends nor send representatives to meetings such as NAEJA to at minimum hear about issues voiced by residents. Their presence might help answer questions such as why someone running away, why someone who was not firing or even pointing a gun, or why individuals who possess something other than a gun such as a baseball bat, stick, or tree branch, knife, screw driver, rock, and so on are still responded to with gunfire from deputies.

Recommendation #7

Track and measure the number of individuals who die from complications due to deputy UOF, but that are not counted as homicides subsequent to initial incident. Follow up on those maimed rarely happens.

Recommendation #8

Track the number of incidents where undocumented people are victims of UOF and explore how immigration status plays a role if any.

Recommendation #9

Jail school

Jail school

Don’t accept or assume that jails and prisons will fill Compton’s obligation and need for more traditional vocational (E.g., welding, block masonry, dog grooming and walking) and career counseling (life skills), mental health, and alcohol and other drug programming, a recovering community, within its borders. Effective faith-based activities should be welcomed.

Again, city officials seem to have abdicated their responsibility for public safety in Compton. Officials must take seriously their role with public safety as they administer the sheriff contract and serve the residents of Compton. There is scant proof that officials see themselves as responsible for public safety in Compton aside from having a contract with the sheriff. Career politicians in Compton usually don’t run for office on a public safety platform. Therefore once in office, they have little obligation to fulfill a promise that was never made in the first place.

Need proof? Watch who responds to this call-out.

Discussion: Rarely does the Compton city council, city manager, or city attorney speak to crime and law enforcement issues during regular public meetings. In this respect it does not appear that they collectively or individually are knowledgeable of resident public safety needs and are willing to hold LASD accountable for its activities within city boundaries. The Compton city council has not actively monitored sheriff performance in the city nor have they consistently advocated for residents (E.g. see Recommendation # 2). Help in this area is possible if Compton would take the lead and work-in a contract clause to require LASD to obtain CALEA accreditation for its work in the city.

Recommendation #10

Place a survey form on the city’s official website that captures levels of satisfaction with sheriff services in Compton (do the same for municipal services). The survey would use a Likert scale to measure for example neighborhood visibility; fair treatment; courteous phone response; solicits community input; educates in use of 911; and, emergency response time. Yes or no responses could be answered for the questions: “As a citizen I feel; safe at home; safe walking alone in my neighborhood at night; safe being alone in City parks or playgrounds at night; and, crime has made me change my personal activities,” for example. Closed or open ended questions could capture residents thoughts on how the sheriff can improve E.g., be more visible; be more courteous; concentrate on serious crime; don’t discriminate; improve deputy training; hire more deputies; solicit more community input; more traffic enforcement; and/or, more drug enforcement. Most important, Compton could include it’s own complaint/complement form on its webpage to measure all municipal services including the sheriff.

Discussion: No one ever asks input from Compton residents which helps explain policy missteps over the years. It’s insufficient for officials to have a vision for the city that is not informed by the citizenry.

The recommendations above probably will not completely solve the problem of distrust between Compton residents and local law enforcement including the school police but should help bridge the gap.

A former Compton mayor brought the sheriff to the city and his successor paid one million dollars to a consultant that didn’t give half as much as offered here for free. What will the current officials do in the area of public safety? The world is watching but, more importantly, Compton residents are.

It’s a good time for Compton to start somewhere. Why not here?

What would we do if we were not afraid?

Murder suspect

Murder suspect

 

 

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