L.A.’s Best Kept Security Secret

Published: April 30, 2006

Ask almost any person on the street, and he or she has probably heard of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). With Hollywood productions like Dragnet, Lethal Weapon, Adam-12 and The Shield, as well as frequent references in the national news, this West Coast institution has become quite recognizable.

Perhaps because of LAPD’s notoriety then, most Americans (and many Angelinos for that matter) have never heard of the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD). The public doesn’t realize that this force, run by Chief Lawrence Manion, has the monumental task of protecting the nearly 900,000 students, 73,000 district employees, and 1,100 schools, learning facilities and administration buildings that make up the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The school system, which covers a 710-square-mile area, is a huge responsibility that LASPD’s chief, along with his 330 officers, 120 civilian school safety officers and 40 civilian support staff, manage everyday with little or no accolade.

But successfully deploying such a limited number of personnel over so much area on a $38 million budget can be challenging, to say the least. Because of this, Manion has been required to be resourceful, partnering with the LAPD and several other local jurisdictions, along with the Los Angeles City Council and Sheriff’s Department to make the LASPD’s resources go further.

By keeping a close eye on costs, being involved in a wide variety of initiatives, encouraging officers to form partnerships and gather information from the community, and effectively using technology, this former unknown police agency’s star appears to be on the rise.

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How do you determine the best way to allocate your funding and deploy your officers?

Manion: I have to come up with a plan of action that is going to provide my personnel with the best tools of the trade but at a very reasonable cost.

For example, we have 11 motor officers, but we had to replace their motorcycles, which cost on average $20,300 a piece. To solve this problem, some of our reserve officers who are in the Los Angeles City Council worked together with other law enforcement agencies. Then the city council through Councilman Dennis Zine got us 14 Kawasaki motorcycles. I applaud the L.A. City Council and Councilman Zine especially for stepping forward and helping us. We also had people who donated funds for our K-9 unit and in some cases provided us with the actual dogs.

So you pull resources from other areas besides your budget to fill in the gaps?

Manion: In this case, it was with motorcycles and K-9 units, but let’s take another example. Our district has what we call safe passage zones to and from school, but LASPD had to come up with a formula [to determine the locations]. We did this by commingling with the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. We did the first-ever aerial photography program where I sent my personnel up with their helicopter crews, and we photographed the school and its surrounding communities. We then took the photographs and grid them just like a Thomas Guide. Now we can literally track our safe passages to and from school.

We’re also the first school district in the nation, to my knowledge, to have the street numbers of all our schools painted on the main administration buildings. This is important because those three-foot-high numbers can be seen by a helicopter crew about two miles away. As a result, the average response time in an emergency is a minute-and-a-half by helicopter.

Are there any trends you’re noticing that are particularly troublesome, and how are you addressing those issues?

Manion: Graffiti. It leads to greater vandalism and criminal activity. If you let it stay as is and don’t correct the deficiency now, it’s going to become a major problem later. That’s why we are focusing on the little things in the beginning. We’re making sure our officers even go into the restrooms and check on the damage to the insides of the commodes.

We determined that the district was losing about $10.5 million a year from graffiti and vandalism. To address this issue, at the request of the LAPD we recently joined forces with them and created the LAPD/LASPD Anti-Gang Graffiti Task Force. It has just begun, but so far we’ve made 15 arrests.

Campus officers know all of the players, and they are photographing the graffiti that’s either on or off campus. We have a database that’s being put together through the city’s Department of Public Works where we can download that information for our agencies. We’re then able to make arrests and prevent the damage from occurring at school the following day.

So you must be a big proponent of community policing.

Manion: Absolutely. A campus is a small city with an average population of 1,300. Some of our campuses have as many as 4,600 kids. We have to determine what is the best way to approach specific problems unique to each area.

There may be a school in the San Fernando Valley that has a problem with parents driving illegally through the street to drop off their kids, possibly causing accidents. There may be a school elsewhere that has graffiti issues. Another school might have the problem of kids going back and forth [from the school to the community and back again], where regrettably there is some criminal activity we have to tackle.

But do you know where our officers get all of our information? From the community and kids on campus. We can take that [information] back to the business owners, churches, parole officers, probation officers and administrators. We can coordinate with other law enforcement agencies, the city council here in Los Angeles and other municipalities and come up with a plan of action. It’s with the information gathering and partnership forming where our officers are stars. They’re the best.

The city attorney has also been generous enough to supply some of our communities with overhead video cam systems. A lot of our schools are equipped with video monitoring systems, and they have been absolutely instrumental in preventing a lot of criminal activity.

What have been LASPD’s most effective initiatives?

Manion: I think one of the most effective things this department has done is put a motor officer team into place. Before I became chief, LASPD’s previous chief, Alan Kerstein, expanded our motors, K-9s and the number of LASPD detectives. When he left, I continued his work and even expanded it.

Our motors work not only as traffic enforcement, but they talk with the kids in classrooms. The campus police officers and K-9 officers also go out and help kids with their studies and do what we call the junior police academy in our elementary schools.

Additionally, our detective unit has been responsible for recovering millions of dollars of stolen LAUSD property. The detectives do a tremendous job.

But where we shine is our unification with the other 13 municipalities we work with. LASPD officers must know all of the procedures and things that are required of these 13 separate agencies.

Of course, we are together with the Child Abuse Task Force from the city attorney’s office. We’re also on board with the Safe Sign program, as well as the seatbelt initiative. We’re basically participating in everything humanly possible to make a safer learning environment for our kids and actually be somebody they can look up to and respect.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the May/June 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
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Strategy & Planning Series