In the April 29 edition of the Pasadena Star News, our current favorite reporter Alfred Lee wrote about a foot tour he took of the quaint downtown precincts of Sierra Madre. A kind of walking of the beat, to use the old police parlance. And one that featured our very own Chief of Police, Marilyn D. Diaz. Here's how Alfred put it:
"Diaz invited along the media to a 'Walk the Beat' event Wednesday that not only reached out to local community members but also appeared intended to strengthen her public image, which was shaken last year after Diaz was hit with a no-confidence vote by her officers and an invasion of privacy lawsuit by the Sierra Madre Police Officers' Association."
Now I was raised on the east coast, across the river from New York City to be exact. And among my earliest memories as a child was going into the city with my dad to just, as he put it, poke around. My old man was a big time poker arounder. And one of the things that I always noticed was the sight of Policemen walking the streets. My dad would call them "beat cops," and tell me about why that was a good thing. It kept the neighborhood safe while letting everyone there know who the local cops were. These Police were truly a part of their community.
So when I read the story about Chief Diaz I felt, well, disappointed. Here was our Chief of Police walking the downtown streets like a beat cop, but only because she felt the need to show her face due to an unfortunate legal situation. And that rather than a good way to conduct Police business, her walking a beat was a kind of media stunt, a novelty meant to counter some bad publicity. The story continues:
"The event was organized in part by RMS Public Relations, which has been working with the city since January, according to publicist Jason Kirshner."
So I began wondering why we don't have beat cops downtown except as public relations events. Certainly the perception must be positive, otherwise why would RMS-PR have recommended it? The Police Station is right there, and we're only talking about eight or so blocks. An entire walking tour through the neighborhood could be down in 45 minutes if there were no stops for coffee.
So I started a list of problems and solutions. Here are the three that I've finished:
1) There is an unmistakable tension in Sierra Madre between citizens and the Police. And I've heard about it from people I'd least expect to hear such things. Like from some of the dads that help coach my kids' Little League team. From tales of unfair tickets to whatever it is that happened at the Four Seasons Tea Room, it has come up. This is a real issue. So let me ask you, when is the last time you talked to a cop? When is the last time a member of the SMPD attempted to strike up a conversation with you? Like never, right? Our cops ride around in low slung cars and glower out the windows. They could be space aliens for all we know. But what if a few were turned into beat cops for a several hours a day and were to walk around downtown? Wouldn't this break things down a bit? And lead to some truly radical behavior, like real conversations and getting to know each others' names?
2) There are some things that just cannot be seen from Police cars. As an example, how are the new downtown smoking restrictions going to be enforced? As anyone who has been downtown lately knows, the 90 day voluntary period is a joke. The smokers are still there, and seemingly quite comfortable. The restrictions will soon have some legal bite to them, but Police driving by in patrol cruisers are still not going to be able to observe smokers sitting at the tables in front of, let's say, Bean Town. For one thing, they can't see through the cars parked in front of our legendary coffee joint. But also, and I've observed this personally, when a cop car is sighted on Baldwin Avenue, smokers just lower their cigarettes. The cop car drives by and then the regular routine resumes. But if Police on foot were to occasionally walk by, I guarantee you would never see smoker within 25 feet of any of the restricted areas. And also, everyone would know exactly where the legal smoking areas are because there would actually be someone there to let them know.
3) We have had a rash of robberies in the last year or so. It has been written and talked about a lot. But what if Police were physically on the streets, and could be seen walking a beat? I've never believed for a minute that thieves just roar into town, grab stuff, and then race back out again. Rather they cruise the place, check things out, look for the good stuff, and only when they feel comfortable do they strike. And chances are pretty good one of the places they spend some time is downtown. Now if you were a thief and you observed a couple of cops walking down the street where you were sitting, wouldn't you feel a little nervous? Of course you would. You'd think this was some kind of cop crazy town and take your affairs to some other place pronto.
Now it's nice that Chief Diaz is out meeting folks on the street once in a while. But maybe it's time to make this a little more meaningful. It's time to bring back something that has been the backbone of law enforcement throughout most of human history. The beat cop.
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People have been asking about Rosenberg's Rules of Order, and exactly what it is that John Buchanan was up to at last Tuesday's meeting when our new Mayor was selected. And why was it John didn't want to go by Robert's Rules of Order, something that is the accepted practice at our City Council meetings. Well, it apparently goes this way. Under Robert's Rules of Order, there would be a vote, and that would be it. MaryAnn MacGillivray would get 3 votes out of the 5 available, and become Mayor. But if Rosenberg's Rules of Order had been accepted for use this one time, there would have been two votes. The first where Joe Mosca would officially go down in flames for the second time in so many years, and then a follow-up for appearances. In the second instance John Buchanan would probably have cast his vote for the person who had already won, MaryAnn MacGillivray. After all, the issue was now moot.
And why would Buchanan have wanted this? So that he could have said that he was really a voice for amity and unity on the council. The true ombudsman placed between the warring factions. Malarkey? Sure. But typical John Buchanan posturing? Without a doubt. It was an attempt to gain political points by seizing an imaginary moral high ground. I for one am glad he wasn't able to sneak this one by. We'd have had to hear about how fair and equitable he is for the rest of 2009.