Valley's new top cop prepared to 'respond the needs of the Valley'
by Dana Bartholomew, Daily News Staff Writer
November 24, 2009
After Los Angeles police Capt. Kirk J. Albanese assumed command of Foothill Division six years ago, a Latino family called 911 to report a burglary.
The next day, 12 gang members in white T-shirts banged on their door warning them never to speak to police again. That same week, the gang terrorized a security guard at the San Fernando Valley's only housing project.
So the new area captain pounced. Albanese dispatched four cops into San Fernando Gardens in Pacoima - 24/7. And ordered them out of their black-and-whites.
"I said, `You park your car at the community center and you get in it when you go home.' They walked a foot beat 24 hours a day," said Albanese, 54, now a deputy chief and commander of the South Bureau.
"We planted a flag and crime was gone."
Come January, the keen crime fighter will once again hoist a flag as the new commander of Valley Bureau, replacing newly promoted Assistant Chief Michel Moore.
An agile tactician with 29 years in the Los Angeles Police Department, Albanese is credited with inventing the LAPD's "war room concept" to battle crime. An able administrator, he won praise for opening the city's first police station in 28 years in Mission Hills, where he served as captain after mapping out the new division.
A softy at heart, he's taken more than one police ribbing for founding a successful feline warriors unit to chase off rats at Foothill and other stations.
He's also firmly committed to the concept of community policing.
"I'm very excited about it," said Albanese from his office in South Los Angeles. "I really look forward to working with the community to address issues of concern, and to respond to the needs of the Valley."
Newly appointed Chief Charlie Beck anointed the 6-foot-3 inch veteran Thursday to be the Valley's top cop.
He will assume command Jan. 3. The Valley Bureau, with eight divisions and roughly 2,000 officers to patrol 1.3 million residents in 220 square miles from Porter Ranch to Studio City, is the largest in Los Angeles.
"He's very businesslike, hands on, knows what's going on in the bureau," said police Capt. Don Schwartzer, commander of the South Traffic Division, who joined the force when Albanese did. "He's a good cop."
Albanese is a native of Mount Pleasant, N.Y., where his dad owned an Italian restaurant.
Watching episodes of "Dragnet" and "Adam 12," he yearned to be a police officer. He'd all but aced an NYPD test but was still 4,993 on a list of 40,000 applicants.
Los Angeles, however, welcomed him with open arms. Since joining the force in 1980, he's done just about every kind of police work, from patrol and gang enforcement to narcotics and internal affairs, even administration.
To combat rodents chewing their way through cold case files at Foothill, he conscripted a corps of feral cats to take care of up to 100 mice. "We put three cats in there," he said, "end of problem."
To comply with an order by former Chief William Bratton to cut serious crime, he organized a war room strategy.
While police lieutenants once met once a week to discuss anti-crime tactics, they now met each morning to determine daily missions against crimes from auto theft to murder. In less than a year, he'd cut such crimes by 21 percent.
"We achieved what we set out to achieve, with military precision and focus," said Albanese, a father of two who lives in the San Gabriel Valley. "I'm a tactician, a student of tactics."
He said he's also devoted to "constitutional policing," where police follow local and U.S. laws, and to transparency, having an open-door policy for his officers and the public.
It's about maintaining community trust, he said, by police treating people with respect and dignity every time they contact the public.
As a result of community policing at San Fernando Gardens, he said, 28 gang members and their families were evicted.
"When you put L.A. cops in the community who are not (just) driving by, people fall in love with them," Albanese said. "Crime is abated. Fear is abated. It's a fine definition of community policing.
"Here's the bottom line with me: If there's an issue, we'll find a solution."