At LAUSD's Chatsworth Elementary, LAPD lieutenant is front and center
by Barbara Jones
Arriving at Chatsworth Elementary School after a three-week winter break, students and parents were greeted early Monday by LAPD Lt. Cory Palka, who shook the kids' hands, chatted up the moms and dads and - despite his easygoing demeanor - brought a feeling of security to those entering the campus gates.
"I think it's great that they're here," said Charlie Butler, escorting daughters Juliana and Veronica onto the school grounds. "I know that the LAPD is understaffed, so it's a big deal to me that they're here to deter bad people."
Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and other law-enforcement agencies fanned out across Los Angeles Unified during the first day of a beefed-up patrol operation dubbed Operation Embrace. Planned in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut, police will spend an hour each day on K-8 campuses - a half-hour every morning and afternoon - as a way to reassure the public that school safety is a top priority.
Los Angeles Unified police already are stationed full time at the district's high schools, and the agency's officers also patrol K-8 schools on a daily basis.
"We want to reaffirm, re-establish and engage with the youth in our community," said Palka, who works out of the LAPD's Valley Division and helped create the Operation Embrace deployment plan for the region's 452 elementary and middle schools.
Over the next several weeks - no one knows yet how long the operation will last - patrol officers, detectives and administrators will add walk-and-talk school visits to their everyday duties. Chatsworth Elementary will get its regular visits from Officer Lou Medrano, who usually spends his mornings looking for speeders and other traffic violators in the Northwest Valley.
"It's safer, and creates an ambiance of certainty," said Evelyn Revel, who took a photo of her 9-year-old daughter Isabella shaking hands with Palka so she could post it online. "It's good, any way you look at it."
Dad Dino Dinielli had to reassure 6-year-old Emily that all was well, despite the presence of a uniformed officer at school. The youngster had cried when she'd heard about the 20 students and six adults killed at Sandy Hook and was frightened that something similar could happen at her school.
"The police are here to make sure that you stay safe," he told her.
Other youngsters were thrilled at the chance to get an up-close look at a police officer, much less to actually talk to one.
"I've always wanted to be a policeman," 9-year-old Jason Rodriguez told Palka, who encouraged him to volunteer with one of the many youth programs sponsored by the LAPD.
The additional patrols were announced on Dec. 17 by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and school Superintendent John Deasy, who said they wanted to reassure parents that school is the most secure place their kids can be during the day.
During an assembly to welcome students back after winter break, Principal Esther Leon told the kids "your safety is my No. 1 job," as she encouraged them to tell her or a teacher if they see someone on campus who they think doesn't belong.
"When you're safe, then you can do your job, and that is to learn," she said.
Law enforcement also offered the patrols to charter and private schools, and dozens of campuses signed up.
Mary Beth Lutz, principal at St. Mel School in Woodland Hills, said an officer from the LAPD's Emergency Services Division visited for about two hours, touring the campus and offering kudos for the campus' security precautions and suggestions for making them better.
Parents and students alike, Lutz said, were "excited and very happy" to have the LAPD at school.
However, the grass-roots Community Rights Campaign decried the armed campus patrols, raising concerns about the civil rights and emotional well-being of students and their families.
"The best response to the Connecticut tragedy would consist of nonviolent short- and long-term interventions that make profound shifts in education, culture and school climate, that are restorative, preventative and that allocate resources to holistic and mental health services tailored to the specific needs of LAUSD's school communities," the group said in a statement.
L.A. crime down for 10th year in a row
by Christina Villacorte
Violent crime in the city of Los Angeles fell for the 10th year in a row to its lowest level in decades, even as property crime reversed its downward trend and posted a slight uptick, the mayor and police chief announced Monday.
"Our data shows that, in 2012, Los Angeles had the fewest violent crimes per capita than any big city in the United States of America," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during a news conference at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.
"Last year, there was a citywide reduction in robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft, and - for the third year in a row - we saw fewer than 300 homicides," he added.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said the 18,293 violent crimes recorded in 2012 represented an 8.2 percent slide from the year before. Statistics showed significant decreases in robbery and aggravated assault offset increases in rape and homicide.
"This is the lowest violent crime level in the city of Los Angeles since William Parker was chief (of the LAPD in the '50s and '60s)," Beck said.
He added a 10.5 percent drop in gang-related crimes overall helped drive the numbers down, noting the 152 gang-related homicides last year were the fewest in decades.
The city, however, saw property crimes increase for the first time in years, though by only 0.2 percent for a total of 85,866 thefts, burglaries and carjackings.
Beck blamed the uptick on a 30 percent increase in cellphone thefts, in particular, and he urged the public to take precautions to prevent their various electronic gadgets from being stolen.
"Lock it, hide it and you'll keep it," he advised. "Put the responsibility on yourself for keeping your property safe. If you do that, then I can continue to reduce crime in the city of Los Angeles."
Beck also attributed some of the increase in property crime to realignment, which took effect in October 2011. That law, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, included a provision that placed certain ex-cons on probation instead of parole.
"When realignment was originally announced, I predicted property crime would increase in Los Angeles by a couple of percentage points because of it, and I believe that has occurred," he said, calling for the law to be "tweaked" so that police can monitor ex-cons more closely.
Taken together, the overall drop in violent crimes and property crimes in 2012 was 1.4 percent, the smallest percentage decline in the last five years.
In 2008, during the recession, overall crimes receded 7.6 percent. In 2011, the drop was 4.6 percent.
Beck, however, bristled at the observation that last year's 1.4 percent drop in the overall crime rate seemed under par.
"You're minimizing something that is a remarkable achievement," he said.
"Why don't you ask the other cities that had an increase? Why don't you ask New York, Chicago, the county of Los Angeles, if they would like to have 1.4 percent."
Villaraigosa, whose term ends in June, said he hopes the incoming mayor - whoever it may be - will make the continued hiring of police officers a priority.
He said the LAPD recently hit a milestone when its ranks swelled to 10,000, but added Los Angeles remains "the most underpoliced big city" in the country. He refused to back a proposed ballot measure to boost the sales tax if the LAPD is not allowed to continue growing.
"There is no way I would support a sales tax if we don't continue police hiring," Villaraigosa said.
"These numbers (the declining crime rates) don't lie," he added. "These numbers are a reflection of growing our police department, of our commitment to community policing."
Beck vowed the LAPD would continue to lower crime rates by remaining data-driven in its crime suppression strategies, and by working closely with the Mayor's Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office.
He also vowed to expand "predictive policing, which uses logarithms to predict where crime will occur and to control the response of officers," as well as more officers long-term to the toughest parts of the city so they can form deep partnerships with the communities there.
He also intends to continue Operation Ceasefire, which calls for talking to gang members so they know the consequences of continued violent crimes, and Operation Laser, which closely tracks people who have committed violent crimes in the past and are likely to do so again.
Albany police emphasize stats, community in reducing crime
Albany police emphasize statistical analysis and community involvement in reducing crime
by Bryan Fitzgerald
ALBANY — In May 2012, police used an unusual tactic to quell the gunfire after three shootings occurred in 12 days within three blocks on the west side of Arbor Hill: They parked the department's mobile command center, a hulking RV equipped with cameras and its own booking room, on Lark Street between Sheridan and Clinton avenues.
There wasn't another shooting in Arbor Hill until July 2, a few days after the RV was removed. That drive-by shooting across the street at Sheridan and Lark left two men wounded. On July 5, a woman was shot a block away on Orange Street.
The next morning, the command center was back, parked again between Sheridan and Clinton. The neighborhood's next shooting came on Aug. 15 — less than a week after the command center was moved away for the second time.
"When that thing was up," said Isaiah Perry, who lives on nearby Elk Street. "I think people saw that and, for some reason, thought twice before doing anything, even if they knew police weren't inside."
It's one of many factors in a recent drop in violent crime in the most violent part of the city. In 2010, the west side of Arbor Hill had a combined average of 7.7 violent crimes — murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — each month, more than three times the city average.
Albany Police Chief Steve Krokoff said the command center was more than a visual crime deterrent. Though often unoccupied, its cameras were always operating and, the chief said, it represented a more widespread, community-based effort to stop violent crime in the neighborhood. But it likely played at least a small role in chipping away at the neighborhood's violent crime rate, which plummeted 26 percent between January 2011 and July 2012, when the number of violent crimes fell to an average of 5.7 per month.
Data provided to the Times Union by the Albany Police Department show that in that same 18-month period, violent crime dropped 13 percent across the city. Krokoff is the first to admit that reasons for the precipitous drop extend beyond simply parking the command center in a crime-ridden area and more comprehensive work by his department.
The Albany County District Attorney's Office has successfully prosecuted many of the city's most violent criminals. And crime has been falling nationally and worldwide for years.
But the daily crime records provided to the Times Union show violent crime has dropped in many of Albany's most troubled neighborhoods since the beginning of 2011, when Krokoff took over as chief and the department began to implement a more decentralized, community policing strategy coupled with statistical analysis and an openness to trying new methods of making the city safer.
"I want this city to be a test bed. I want people to try things here," Krokoff said. "I want to try out someone's doctoral thesis, what you have learned in academia, and let's apply that to law enforcement."
Despite the overall drop in the number of violent crimes, however, some crime is being displaced to other parts of the city and some who live in the neighborhoods where crime is falling say they still feel unsafe. An analysis of the city's crime data shows that much of the city's violent crime still occurs within just a handful of neighborhoods.
Over the past decade, violent crime peaked in Albany in 2005 and 2006, when more than 1,220 violent crimes were reported in the city in each year. By the end of 2010, that number had fallen to 981. From January 2011 through June 30, 2012, a total of 1,274 violent crimes were reported in the city.
That drop was most substantial from the beginning of 2012 through the end of June, when 334 violent crimes were reported. That number is likely to rise once the city's annual total is finalized: July, August and September tend to have more, but an overall drop for the year is likely.
In 2011, the department's Neighborhood Engagement Unit was put in place as part of Krokoff's community policing philosophy after he took over as police chief from James Tuffey. The NEU is split into 33 areas of responsibility, called beats. Albany police gave the Times Union a list of every crime reported in the city from Jan. 1, 2010, through June 30, 2012, and the beat in which each crime occurred. An analysis of that data shows that 77 percent of all violent crime in the city within that time took place within 13 beats: Arbor Hill West and East, West Hill West and East, Pine Hills East, the South End, Park South, Central Avenue West and East, Center Square, Downtown, Delaware and the Mansion District.
In that time, 39 percent of all violent crimes in the city were within five beats — Arbor Hill West, West Hill West and East, the South End and Pine Hills East. Of those, the South End was the only area to have a bump in violent crime — up 3 percent — from January 2011 through the first half of 2012. Pine Hills East had a 20 percent drop in violent crime in that 18-month span, while West Hill East and West had a combined drop of 13 percent. Delaware had a drop of 49 percent and in Downtown, violent crime fell by 32 percent. Areas with increases included Arbor Hill East — up 16 percent — and Center Square, which is centered around Lark Street — up 3 percent.
Moving with the beat
Some police and municipal officials credit the drop in violent crime to the Neighborhood Engagement Unit and other efforts by the police department to spot trends and prevent crime.
"Everything started to change right around when the new beat structure was put in place," said Councilman Ron Bailey, whose 3rd Ward covers Arbor Hill and the South End. "Before, there was little to no trust between most people and the officers. Now, we're not quite all the way there yet, but we're moving toward a place where it feels like each side is no longer each other's enemy."
The NEU assigns each beat its own group of officers who listen to residents' needs and complaints and gives those officers more freedom to make decisions on their own. At first, some officers were skeptical about the NEU's mission, and how the beats were assigned caused Krokoff's first rift with the Albany Police Officers Union. But Officer Thomas Mahar, president of the city police union, says the NEU concept is now widely embraced by the officers.
"I like the fact that it's given us more discretion," Mahar said. "And it's not all about arresting people. It's about working with the community. Before, you dealt with a call, got back in your car and probably never saw that person again."
But one officer, who spoke anonymously because he is not authorized to comment publicly, said the sizeable drop in violent crime in the downtown area was largely due to the number of bars that have closed recently, driving rowdy crowds to Lark Street or north to Saratoga Springs.
Alan Lizotte, dean of the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, said he is impressed with Krokoff's approach to policing — "he's very creative in his solutions and he listens to the community."
But Lizotte also said crime statistics have been declining nationally and internationally for more than 15 years, partly because of an outdated reporting system. The 1930s-era Uniformed Crime Reports system remains the industry standard for tracking crime.
Also, many crimes occur on the Internet and are difficult to document or are not reported.
"Let's say you have your credit card stolen," Lizotte said. "What do you do? You probably call the credit card company, they cancel your card and you get a new one. You probably don't call the police and the credit card company isn't going to call the police."
Though credit card thefts and Internet crimes are property crimes, Lizotte said their proliferation contributes to the drops in violent crime statistics because there are fewer face-to-face confrontations between criminals and victims. Many violent crimes start out as thefts gone awry, he said.
Krokoff says he is proud not only of his department's numbers, but also of its innovative ways of analyzing data.
"You know what statisticians and good handicappers do? They find a way to quantify emotion," the chief said. "I'll put in the frame of the stock market, which is one of the most emotionally irrational animals out there. It's based on fear, what everybody is afraid of. If you can quantify people's reactions to information and reaction to fear, in theory you can predict what's going to happen in the market."
"Now let's take that and marry it over to policing," he said. "If you can start analyzing anomalies or commonalities in numbers, you can now correlate that to certain events that have happened in the past or, in a way, actually predict the future. It's the basis of predictive policing."
Krokoff also believes that making his crime data available will help cut down on crime and ease residents' concerns about safety. One of his long-term goals is to create a public online database that shows the city's most up-to-date crime statistics by neighborhood. That plan likely won't be in place for some time, but the department is taking its first steps in that direction. In the fall, Krokoff said the city would soon make its monthly crime reports and some of its mapping data available through the law enforcement website Nixle.
How much that data will ease fears is unclear. While many residents said they applaud the police department's new initiatives, others said they still distrust law enforcement agencies and that being told of a significant drop in violent crime in their neighborhoods does not make them feel safer.
"So we go from, what, five murders to three?" said one West Hill resident who identified herself as Mary. Like others, she said she's noticed the increased and more approachable police presence in her neighborhood, but "People are still out there with guns. People are still dealing drugs. The police can be as nice as they want, they can talk to you all they want, but they can't be everywhere all the time."
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5414 • @BFitzgeraldTU
Where violent crime fell and rose
Beats where violent crime fell by 20 percent or more from 2010 to 2011-2012 (minimum 20 violent crimes per month):
1.Delaware - Down 49%
2.Downtown - Down 32%
3.Arbor Hill West - Down 26%
4.Park South - Down 24%
5.Pine Hills East - Down 20%
Beats where violent crime rose at any percentage from 2010 to 2011-2012 (minimum 20 violent crimes per year)
1.Arbor Hill East - Up 16%
2.Central Avenue West - Up 9%
3.South End - Up 4%
4.Center Square - Up 3%
From the FBI
Stopping a Suicide Bomber --
Jihadist Planned Attack on U.S. Capitol
After months of consideration, a target was picked and a date was set: On February 17, 2012, Amine Mohamed El-Khalifi would strap on a bomb-laden vest and—in the name of jihad—blow himself up at an entrance to the U.S. Capitol. If anyone tried to stop him, he would shoot them with a MAC-10 assault weapon.
That's how the 29-year-old Northern Virginia resident believed events would unfold that Friday morning when he emerged from his car—suicide vest on and weapon by his side—in a parking garage near the Capitol.
“He totally believed he was going to die in the attack, and he seemed very much at peace with it,” said a special agent on our Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) who investigated the case. “The day of the attack, he was happy.”
What El-Khalifi didn't know was that “Yusuf,” the supposed Al Qaeda operative he was conspiring with, was actually an undercover FBI agent—and the would-be terrorist's every move was being monitored by members of our Washington Field Office JTTF. Although El-Khalifi believed he was going to kill many people that day in the name of jihad, the explosives in his vest and the assault weapon had been rendered inoperable by FBI technicians.
A Moroccan citizen who came to the U.S. more than a decade ago, El-Khalifi initially embraced Western culture. But in 2010 he began posting radical jihadist messages online and expressed an interest in joining the mujahedeen to fight in Afghanistan. “As far as we know,” said the special agent who investigated El-Khalifi, “he became radicalized online.”
In January 2011, El-Khalifi met with individuals in a Washington suburb where jihad was endorsed and weapons were displayed. By the end of 2011—after he had been introduced to our undercover agent—El-Khalifi was actively seeking to join an armed extremist group, and he suggested bombing attacks on targets ranging from a local synagogue to a restaurant frequented by U.S. military officials.
During meetings with our undercover agent, El-Khalifi handled weapons and explosives and said he would use a gun to kill people face-to-face. Finally, in January 2012, after a test explosion in a West Virginia quarry (carefully monitored by the JTTF) El-Khalifi decided to attack the Capitol building. It would be a suicide mission.
Over the next month, the would-be bomber visited the Capitol building several times to conduct surveillance. On the morning of February 17, El-Khalifi drove to the parking garage and put on the suicide vest. As he walked toward the Capitol, he was quickly arrested.
Four months later, El-Khalifi pled guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. In September, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
“This case ended well, thanks to the work of the JTTF,” our agent said. “All our JTTF partners, including state and local law enforcement, played a key role. It's scary to consider this guy's intentions,” the agent added. “He was totally rational. There was no disconnect from reality—he was going to kill people and he felt that was the right way to express his religious beliefs.”
The agent noted that one of El-Khalifi's original plans was to take an automatic weapon to a shopping mall and shoot as many people as possible. “It's frightening to think what might have happened if he had not shown up on the FBI's radar.”