By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“The selection of Smith is because he is who he is,” Chief Bratton tells me, calling from the back seat of his city-assigned automobile, on his way to a fund-raiser. “He’s a relationship builder. He worked in a very difficult command in our business. Commander of the 911 centers with almost 700 civilian employees, with all types of issues and problems. He did an extraordinary job there and he is a caring person.” Hey, not a bad recommendation from the big boy. Andy Smith must really be the shit.
Smith speaks mostly in abbreviated, minimal cop speak with a glaring Midwestern accent. It’s endearing. “This isn’t the captain of 77th [precinct],” he says, “where you have 42 gang homicides a year to date. Isn’t captain of Rampart where there’s these El Salvadorian and South American gangs running around and that kind of problem. We have a completely different problem here.”
I flank the fashionably baldheaded, fit and trim 40-something commander through the Central Community police station on Sixth Street. It’s a tight operation; demi-military ... all “good morning sir”s and “good morning captain”s as we hustle down the fluorescent-lit hallways through the rank and file. Past the watch commander, past neatly dressed Asian women laboring intensely at nice big computer screens in the crime-analysis center. Past Officer Brown, a kid at his first day on the job who has just made his first arrest and looks better equipped than our boys in Baghdad in a Kevlar vest with a service revolver; a green, beanbag shotgun; a Remington 12-gauge shotgun; a 50,000-volt Taser; and four walkie-talkies.
“Realistically, the crime in Central is really pretty low,” Captain Smith says. “Most of it is somebody smashes a window in a car that’s parked and takes the CDs ... that kind of stuff. We have 13 murders this year to date, almost all of ’em narcotics-related.” And Bratton says even that is down 12 percent since Smith has been on the case.
One of the new pressures on the precinct is the well-documented revival of downtown.
“It really is happening,” Smith says. “Ten thousand new units coming on in the year. That’s 20,000 people. In a population of what we say is about 42,000. That’s a huge jump and it’s only gonna get bigger faster. One of the problems is that a lot of folks who are hanging out here aren’t necessarily homeless. They’re down here because, as one of the folks put it, ‘This is Mardi Gras on crack all the time.’ You can come down here and party. You can come down here and buy dope. You can come down here and hang out. You can come down here and have sex. Do whatever it is you wanna do ... kind of a party atmosphere ... if your standards are real low about where you’re gonna hang out and party.”
I follow Smith to the rear of the station where the major organs are housed. It’s a huge space with lots of desks pushed together and separated into sections. Smith introduces me to some well-dressed homicide detectives who smile and nod, but the water runs a little too dark in homicide to conceal the ominous juju with a perfunctory smile and a dry-cleaned suit. These are the guys who see the really gruesome stuff on a regular basis. They stare at me like mediums scanning my psychic blueprint for past-life evidence. It’s intrusive and unnerving. Still, they’re nicely dressed, for detectives that is. It’s not Brooks Brothers at the Pentagon, but it’s not Supercuts and Ross Dress for Less either.
“We had a homicide here about a week and a half ago, Thursday night,” Smith tells me, explaining how the constant buzz of the crack Mardi Gras adds up to real crime. “Two o’clock in the morning. Two people get into a dispute over a bicycle. The bicycle isn’t there, but there’s a perception that someone steals someone’s bicycle ... whatever. One individual picks up a homemade knife — a blade of a knife wrapped in twine — and stabs another individual in the heart. The guy ends up dying four hours later in the hospital. We got out there when he was still conscious and breathing. We figured out who did it. Caught the guy. The guy, this suspect, lives in Azusa. He’s an Azusa-13 gang member. He was just down here to party. He has a home. He lives with his mom in Azusa. There’s a lot of that. A lot of folks come here, a lot of gang members come here, cuz there’s an unlimited supply of narcotics buyers.”
Oh, now I get it. Skid Row is like Vegas for gang bangers. And unless they get popped by the super dope cops... what happens on the Row stays on the Row.