DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter
A report to be reviewed by the Los Angeles City Council’s public safety committee this week finds that police substations, service centers and stop-in offices are underutilized and not needed in many of the communities in which they are located.
While the centers’ supporters say they create high police visibility in neighborhoods and support the goal of greater community-based policing, critics among them Los Angeles City Councilmember Laura Chick, head of the public safety committee say they have been opened in a haphazard manner.
Many of the city’s 125-plus outreach centers have been opened in areas where they do more to serve business interests than community needs, they say.
“It’s often a property owner who has some empty space and wants some police presence,” Chick said in an interview last week.
The City Council’s public safety committee this week will take up the issue of community outreach centers when a Los Angeles Police Department report on their value, along with requests to approve two new centers, simultaneously come before the committee.
The report completed for the committee late last year by Police Chief Willie L. Williams said that the LAPD’s community outreach centers, or CORCs, “have had a positive impact in the majority of communities in which they have been established.” But it also noted that some centers did not benefit the communities in which they opened.
“In Southwest Area, the CORCs were not used at all by the community. Due to the lack of community interest, three CORCs were closed,” the report said.
Rickey Gelb a partner in Gelb Enterprises, which has two buildings with community outreach centers in the San Fernando Valley defended their use, saying that they provide a valuable service.
“I think it’s a good program, and I think we should get one in every area that has a problem and get the LAPD more visible,” he said.
One of the outreach centers at a Gelb property has received criticism because it is located on the second floor of a Ventura Boulevard office building making it less visible to passersby and because it has limited parking nearby.
But Gelb said that it serves a need in the community.
“A lot of people on the boulevard don’t feel comfortable going to Reseda or Van Nuys (police stations) to fill out crime reports,” Gelb said.
Bayan Lewis, an assistant chief and director of operations for the LAPD, agreed that some locations have been opened without adequate forethought, but that most of those locations are stop-in centers, which are not staffed full-time.
“My criticism to the system is we probably went too fast on those,” Lewis said.
Community outreach centers include three types of locations: substations, which are essentially mini police stations staffed full time by police officers; community service centers, which are primarily staffed by volunteers, but with an officer supervising part-time; and stop-in locations, where officers can fill out reports and make phone calls, but which do not have regular hours.
Chick and others said last week that the under-use of locations particularly community service centers and stop-in locations is due to poor planning; centers are often opened where they are not needed.
This, they said, is because the cash-strapped LAPD often opens outreach centers where free space is offered by commercial property owners, rather than where there is high crime or a lack of nearby police stations.
Mel Wilson, president of the San Fernando Valley Association of Realtors, said that the LAPD takes advantage of no-lease spaces because of the financial savings, but it is really the property owners who benefit from the low-cost security.
“I think the landlord who has enough smarts to get a police substation in the area is going to have an advantage over someone who doesn’t have security. So it gives them an advantage of getting better, longer-term tenants,” Wilson said.
Larry Kosmont president of Kosmont & Associates Inc., which completed a master facilities plan for the LAPD last year agreed that the LAPD has taken a careless approach to opening outreach centers.
“There wasn’t a consistent protocol for accepting a station as a substation location. It was often driven by an offer for free space,” Kosmont said.
But he added that not every one of those locations is a waste.
“When someone offers space, there’s certainly something in it for them. But I think there’s a dual benefit there’s a benefit for the community and a benefit for the space provider,” he said.