On Wednesday at around 10 a.m., about 20 Los Angeles Police Department officers from the North Hollywood Division, including Capt. Peter Whittingham, gathered near the entrance to the North Hollywood Metro Red Line Station. About eight squad cars were parked nearby, as was a mobile substation that is frequently used as a base for officers during extended field investigations.
However, no major crime had occurred at or around the station that morning — and that's just the way the LAPD likes it. The gathering was simply a routine part of the North Hollywood Division's recent effort to increase its presence around the station.
While crime is down overall in Los Angeles this year, and in North Hollywood, the area in the NoHo Arts District near the Red Line has seen a continuing problem with criminals using the station as a quick getaway after committing a robbery or theft in the area.
"This is a problem location for us," Whittingam told Patch. "We have partnered with our friends from the (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department) to increase our presence in this area, to make sure that those who would come to North Hollywood or use the Red Line for any type of criminal activity, this is not the pace to go."
The Sheriff's Department — which patrols the MTA system — and the LAPD are partaking in a three-month program that began in March to increase their visual presence around the North Hollywood Metro Red Line Station. The gathering Wednesday morning was part of that program, and what MTA riders saw with all the officers gathered is a routine shift change that typically takes place at the North Hollywood Community Police Station.
"We are bringing roll call out here. This is a case of us hoisting our flag. This is our turf," Whittingham said. "...If you look at North Hollywood as a whole over the last year, and if there is some consistency with property crime, it's in the immediate area of NoHo. And so we're going to fix it."
Wednesday morning was the first time the shift change, what they are calling Roll Call in the Streets, has been moved out of the station into into the streets, said LAPD Sgt. Aaron Ponce, who is the watch commander for the shift. Roll Call in the Streets was Ponce's idea, Whittingham was proud to point out.
"The idea is to bring everybody into a central location where we have community issues, have the senior lead officer present to talk about some the very specific problems there, and to have that community presence," Ponce said. "After the roll call, the officers that patrol the area stay in the area with two or three officers. Because what I find is that citizens will come up and talk to us. When we are static in the area, and it doesn't look like we are running an operation per say, or a police operation, people come up and that's when we open the lines of communication and we talk to them about hiding their stuff, locking their stuff up."
Indeed, before and after the roll call, several people came up to officers to talk or ask questions. Officer John Catalano, who is in charge of the Arts District and has been for about a decade, helped one woman figure out the MTA maps and which train to take. Catalano said the No. 1 way citizens can protect themselves from property crime in NoHo is to pay attention to the LAPD's message.
"The biggest thing over here is property crime and cars getting broken into, people leaving valuables in the car," Catalano said. "We're lucky, we're not seeing violent crime in and around this area right now. There are minor incidents here and there, but for the most part it is property crime. If people could do a better job of hiding their valuables, putting them in the trunk and not leaving them sitting on the seat, visible, little things like that would really go further in reducing our crime."
It has been several years since there was a homicide in the NoHo Arts District, and with crime in Los Angeles and North Hollywood continuing its decade-long decline in 2012, Catalano commented how much easier it is for the department to dedicate itself to hyper-focused problem areas like the Red Line area.
"When (crime) slows down like that, it gives us a chance to do more proactive police work and go after the guys on probation or parole and doing crimes in the area and do followups there, instead of waiting for them to come to us here, we can go after them and find them," Catalano said.
For more information on the LAPD's "Lock It, Hide It, Keep It" campaign, click here.