On Wednesday, April 29, LAPD Wilshire Division’s commanding officer, Captain Shannon Paulson, held an online community meeting to provide updates on various aspects of local police work during the COVID-19 period, and to answer questions from stakeholders about specific issues. Among the topics that were covered:
LAPD’s Current Workload and Capabilities
As she did in a recent forum sponsored by the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, Paulson once again reassured local residents that LAPD is fully capable and prepared to handle both its normal level of business and additional services that might be required during the current pandemic period. Paulson said the division has a “large number” of additional personnel who can be reassigned and brought in if needed to increase staffing levels…but so far, things are going well and there has been no need for additional officers. One thing that has been done, Paulson said, is the reassignment of some front desk and public relations officers to other duties, since the station’s front desk has been closed to the public during the “safer at home” orders. But so far, she said, there has been no need to go to the “Police Work of Major Importance” status that often follows major disasters. Paulson said the station is currently handling all of its normal radio calls without any adjustments in service.
Presence at Pan Pacific Park Shelter
In addition to the Division’s normal duties, Paulson said, the station is also providing police staffing at the temporary shelter at the Pan Pacific Park Recreation Center, which houses homeless residents from the local community. To protect both the shelter residents and those who serve them, Paulson noted, everyone receives a health screening both before they are accepted to the facility, and – as they are free to come and go as they please – each time they enter while in residence. She said the shelter has been operating at or near capacity (about 200 people) since it opened in March.
Officer Health Screenings
Also on the topic of health screenings, Paulson noted that all Wilshire Division officers and staff are screened each time they enter the police station (24 hours a day, seven days a week), whether it’s at the start of their shifts, returning from shifts on the street, or even just coming back from meal breaks.
Enforcement of Mayor’s Directives
According to Paulson, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s directives on business closures, social distancing and wearing masks in public do have “the force of law,” and LAPD is working to help enforce the directives. That doesn’t mean, however, that if someone calls to report a violation that people will see violators led away in handcuffs. Instead, Paulson said, officers are focusing on “education prior to enforcement,” which means that on a first visit, officers will explain the importance of compliance to the violators, and advise them on the possible legal procedures – such as a criminal complaint filed with the City Attorney’s office – that could follow if they continue to violate the rules. Paulson said this technique has resulted in about 93% compliance across the city so far. If business violators do not comply after that first visit, she said, then LAPD can file the criminal complaint, after which the violator will be given another chance to voluntarily comply. And if that doesn’t work, Paulson said, the Mayor has given permission for LADWP to shut down water and power service to business violators. But she also noted that things have escalated to that point with only one business in the city so far.
Paulson said city officials have been afraid that there might be a rise in domestic violence reports during the COVID-19 restrictions, because people are being forced to stay home more with potential abusers…but so far, she said, LAPD has not seen such an increase. She cautioned, though, that it’s also possible that fewer domestic complaints are being filed right now because victims may currently feel trapped with their abusers, with fewer options for escape. To address that possibility, the city has embarked on a new domestic violence awareness campaign, and Paulson said she wants people to know that options for help do exist, and people do not have to remain in an unsafe situation. People who are in, or know of someone who is in, a bad situation, can always call 911 for help…or also text 911 if they need to make a quieter plea for assistance.
Paulson said that she has been in frequent contact with all the major hospitals in the Wilshire Division area since the beginning of the crisis, and that she “cannot express how impressed I am with their dedication and competency.” She said that all of the hospitals are currently fully operational, fully prepared, and fully capable of handling both COVID-19 and more routine medical issues. She noted that Kaiser Permanente’s West LA facility had one particularly busy period during which it was close to capacity for a brief period a couple of weeks ago…but business there, too, is back down to more normal levels now. In fact, she said (and as other health care professionals have also recently reported), local emergency room activity is currently far below its usual levels – mostly because people who traditionally visit ERs for issues that aren’t necessarily true emergencies are staying away, and many more doctors are using “telehealth” consultations to see people remotely when they can.
As the Buzz also noted in a story last week, Paulson confirmed that scam artists tend to “come out of the woodwork” during times of uncertainty and need, and our current moment in time is no exception. She warned residents to be aware that phone calls, letters and e-mails offering government services, COVID-19 tests, treatments, cures or vaccinations, or saying people need to provide their bank account or social security numbers to receive their government stimulus payments, are “all bogus.” There currently is no proven cure or approved at-home test for COVID-19, and you do not need to provide anyone with any sort of account information to receive your stimulus payments (the IRS already has the information it needs). “If you are offered a cure,” Paulson said, “I can guarantee you at this time it is a scam.”
Shelter for the Homeless
Responding to a meeting attendee’s question about what is being done to house homeless neighbors during the crisis, Paulson said the city and county are currently collaborating to offer three “tiers” of shelter. The first is for people who have COVID-19 symptoms and test positive for the disease. These shelters can isolate and quarantine people, monitor their health, and provide medical aid. The second kind of shelters are for those who do have some symptoms of illnes, but who have not yet tested positive for COVID-19…and the third shelter tier is for people who do not currently have any symptoms of the disease. But even the third-tier shelters do provide basic health checks (as mentioned above at Pan Pacific Park) and maintain appropriate social distancing practices, to help minimize the possibility that people who are asymptomatic could spread the disease to others. Also, if someone with symptoms does come to one of these tier 3 shelters, they will be re-directed to a tier 2 shelter instead.
According to Paulson, there has actually been a “marked decrease in crime” in both Wilshire Division and across the city since the COVID-19 restrictions went into place. Burglaries, especially, she said, are way down, mostly because more people are home all day now, which reduces opportunities for would-be burglars. In a similar vein, Paulson said, a lot of other thefts (such as shoplifting from businesses) are down as well, since many stores are closed, or shopping activity is limited and more highly controlled. Paulson also said that LAPD is providing additional patrols in areas where there are shuttered businesses, to make sure those locations are watched and protected as well. And officers are visiting local grocery stores and hospitals regularly, to make sure there are no issues there either. The one kind of crime that is up, Paulson said, are catalytic converter thefts from cars. Paulson noted that if you are the victim of a theft, you can file a police report online, though a simple form at http://lapdonline.org/home/content_basic_view/60409
Paulson noted that we are currently heading into the summer season, and even though we’re all home a lot more than usual at the moment, and burglaries are down, residents should still make sure to protect themselves whenever possible. This includes closing ground floor windows when you leave the house, or when you go to bed at night. And don’t leave valuables – such as purses, wallets, keys, cell phones and laptop computers – out on tables or countertops where they can be easily seen from nearby doors and windows. Those things can be “too inviting” to would-be thieves, and should be stashed out of sight when you’re done with them. Also, she said, many people with more than one car in the household sometimes leave the cars unlocked, with spare keys in them, in a driveway or garage, to make it easier for another member of the household to move the vehicles when necessary. But this, too, Paulson said, provides an additional opportunity for car thieves, and we shouldn’t let our guard down just because theft rates are currently lower than usual.
Summer is also fireworks season, Paulson said, and some residents are already reporting the use of illegal fireworks in their neighborhoods. Paulson said the police will respond to complaints about illegal fireworks, but it’s hard to do so without specific information about which address or streetcorner the explosions are coming from. Also, she said, police response will be much the same as it is for COVID-19 rule violations – on a first visit, officers will educate violators about the dangers of the actions, and hope that the person involved with comply with the rules going forward, so no further actions are necessary. At the same time, however, Paulson said, if people do know of homes where people do shoot off a lot of fireworks, or are known to do so on the Fourth of July, you can request that LAPD officers visit the violators before the Fourth to caution them about the dangers of that activity. And, finally, Paulson noted that fireworks complaints – like other kinds of complaints to LAPD – can be made annonymously, so the violators do not have to know which of their neighbors complained.
After a meeting attendee asked whether graffiti cleanup will be affected by city budget cuts necessitated by COVID-19 expenditures, Paulson said yes, but that people should continue to report graffiti when they see it. Also, she noted that – city budgets aside – graffiti on private property still qualifies as vandalism and can be reported and prosecuted as such.
In response to another audience question, Paulson acknowledged that with the streets emptier these days, speeding is indeed a problem, but she said LAPD can still help (in fact, she wrote a speeding ticket herself earlier that very day, after borrowing a citation book from another officer). Paulson encouraged residents to let LAPD know about speeding issues in their areas.
Finally, Paulson and several members of the Wilshire Division’s Community Police Advisory Board encouraged the public to attend the monthly meetings of that group, which are now being held digitally on the third Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. Contact the Wilshire Division Community Relations Office at [email protected] for more information about the meetings and/or what CPAB does in the community and how you can get involved.