Back to the Future Cop

Photos by Ted SoquiPeter Torres remembers the day he decided to become a cop. He was working as a community organizer in the neighborhood where he was born and raised, two miles south of downtown on the grittier side of the 10 freeway. One day in 1994, while helping students at Thomas Jefferson High School develop after-school programs, he met a senior lead officer from Newton Division named Debbie McCarthy. Until then, Torres had a bad perception of the police. They not only couldn’t solve the problems in his neighborhood, but sometimes seemed to make them worse. He had never seen an officer working in the violent areas around Jefferson High unless they were making an arrest. McCarthy’s personal involvement in the community inspired Torres. He pictured the gangs, drug houses and prostitution rings that plagued his neighborhood as McCarthy talked about how she could take on any problem, by whatever means, and solve it in a way that two officers on a radio call could not. “I saw her as having the resources and opportunity to have a direct impact on organizations, schools and kids,” Torres says. “She was like a mini–council member. I became motivated and thought I could take it up a notch.” Eleven years later, 38-year-old Torres still hasn’t moved out of Newton, but now he has McCarthy’s job — senior lead officer. People on his beat say he is always on call and particularly effective cleaning up entire blocks by simply knocking on doors, and by enlisting — in his off-hours — passing sanitation trucks to help neighborhood cleanup efforts. Lean, muscular and with graying hair, the 5-foot-8 Torres is chided by his colleagues for having no life outside his work. They don’t laugh when his contacts on the street yield useful information. His hands-on style has reduced crime in his tough division, a bloody, graffiti-laden nine-mile stretch of industrial and struggling residential areas in the shadows of downtown Los Angeles, from Skid Row to South-Central. In his nine years with the LAPD, including four as a senior lead, Torres, in a low-profile way, has brought innovations to the science and art of policing, as well as relied on old-fashioned instincts. The mere fact that Torres is the only cop who lives and works in Newton also makes him a standout in the LAPD, where only 15 percent of its 9,300 officers even live in the city of Los Angeles. And Torres is not looking to leave anytime soon. He has decided that being a mini-councilman, as McCarthy described the job of senior lead officer a decade ago, is no longer enough. He wants to be the real thing and is running for City Council in the 9th District against incumbent Jan Perry. He’s overmatched, of course. Perry is a veteran of City Hall, endorsed by influential members of Congress and the state Assembly, Mayor Jim Hahn and Sheriff Lee Baca. Her campaign is well-financed, with overwhelming support from real estate companies and developers who are changing the face of downtown Los Angeles. For Torres, who is relentlessly upbeat, time and money are running out on his campaign to bring the community he loves closer to City Hall. At once a candidate, an innovative officer, a community activist and a defender of the blue uniform, he has a youthful enthusiasm and inner peace that endear him to some; to others, Torres just might be an enigma. He’s used to people feeling uneasy about his ambitions, and recalls the reaction when he applied to be senior lead officer. “Nobody was on my side,” he says. “I got shit from everyone just walking down the hall. Some of my friends stopped talking to me.” Usually senior lead officer is reserved for veterans who have been training officers for a long time, he explains. He had been doing it just three months. “They thought I didn’t know the street, the job or how to do the job. I never second-guessed myself. I knew I could do the job better than anyone.” On a recent Saturday Torres steps out of his campaign headquarters on San Pedro Street and heads to his car. Ranchera music blares from nearby storefronts. Mention the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Devin Brown after a traffic stop by fellow Newton Division Officer Steve Garcia, and Torres launches into an impromptu re-enactment. In his pressed slacks and oxford shirt, Torres crouches behind the open passenger door of his Toyota Corolla, brings his hands together as if clutching his gun and envisions a car heading for him, in reverse. He backs up and braces himself for contact, imagining that he must make a quick decision: fire his weapon and hope to disable the driver, who in his mind he can barely see, or try to dive out of the way. Either way, if he were in Garcia’s shoes, he could be crushed, he says. He’s been the lead on a car pursuit and knows what it feels like. Yet he declines to speculate on another man’s level of fear. Then he toes the department line: Let the facts lead, don’t be rash in judging Garcia’s actions, and don’t get carried away with the LAPD’s sordid past, he says. Torres has never fired his gun while on duty. Nor can he imagine an outcry against him if he did. On his beat he is known to have defused hatred and suspicion of the LAPD. The trick is to convert citizens into a tool of crime prevention and neighborhood empowerment, he says. And to appear omnipresent, but not overtly threatening. Talking to gang members as individuals and living in the hood has earned him cooperation and respect, he says. Some stop running when they see who is chasing them. “They say, ‘Man, you don’t run from Torres,’ ” he says. “If I’m ever in a dark alley in civilian clothes with no weapon and no backup, and I run into someone I once put in jail, I want them to say, ‘I know that guy.’ ” In January 2004, Torres picked streets with the most shootings and robberies and began organizing block clubs, a concept he has embraced. He would park his cruiser in the middle of the block with the light bar on and knock on doors until neighbors came out. Once they were face to face with one another — and him — barriers came down, he says. Trust was established. In one year, he reduced violent crime on his beat from 308 incidents involving a deadly weapon to 237 — a drop of 24 percent. It went from the most violent to the third least violent. His method: a personalized version of the broken-window theory, and a commitment to reducing crime rather than increasing arrests. If you live in Newton, it’s nearly impossible not to run into Torres. Sixty-five-year-old Edward Roberson was shocked to see the officer on his stoop one night. “I’ve been involved with Neighborhood Watch for years, and I never had a senior lead officer come to my house,” he says. “I didn’t think officers did that.” Making himself available to residents like Roberson anytime day or night has paid off for Torres, who also has reached out to disenfranchised members of the community, including homeless people, and encouraged them to act as his eyes and ears. Like the time Roberson passed along a tip that someone was parking stolen cars on 32nd Street, between Main and San Pedro. “Some of these people don’t vote or even have jobs, but they are constantly coming to my house with information for Officer Torres,” Roberson says. “We’ve seen the difference, and not just on my block. He’s worked with the city to secure some of these abandoned buildings. We used to have drive-bys, but now you see folks out on their porches again.” Says Geraldine Mannino, a block-club leader and longtime Newton Division resident, “Torres is never too busy to help us, and we’re not even on his beat. He’s in our community and he listens when we talk.”  

Torres knows, hears and dreams onthe streets of Newton Division.

Torres climbs into his gray Toyota and embarks on a tour of car area 13A41, his 1.2-square-mile beat in Newton Division, which covers nine square miles and has a population of 150,000. “Torres for City Council” signs are pasted up and down San Pedro Street, Maple Street, Main Street and Broadway, from Adams Boulevard down to Vernon Avenue. Occasionally he pulls over and gets out to chat with friends in their front yards or working on cars in their driveways. “I live in a community that doesn’t have a name,” Torres says ruefully of the area known as Kearney back in the 1940s, but which now is lumped in with South L.A., or South-Central. “I can remember when the word stucco did not exist in this neighborhood,” he says, as he drives down streets lined with fading apartments and bungalows and huge dilapidated homes. He slows as he approaches Trinity Park, at 24th Street and Trinity Avenue, where young men are gathered. “This is where the local gangs got started,” he says. In April 2002, a 9-year-old boy named Anthony Ramirez was shot and killed by a gangster chasing another gangster on foot, says Torres. Although he was not assigned to the case, he was moved to help in some way, so he pressed sources in his area for weeks to tell him something, anything to assist detectives investigating the murder. An accomplice was caught and a suspect in the shooting was identified but is believed to have fled the country, he says. “When I saw a photo, I recognized the shooter,” Torres says. “He lived across the street from my parents.” Homicide Detective Richard Arciniega, who investigated the murder, recalls the community reacted with outrage, but that it lasted just one day. Torres says the anger runs deep, but that the root causes of such violence run deeper. “That killing resulted not in talk of improving community services but a transfer of hatred of the LAPD to hatred of the gangs. You know, gang members are people too. There is no neutral energy out here. You’re going to deal with them one way or another.” Gang history in Newton Division, beyond the sets of Bloods and Crips of South L.A., is deep, according to Torres: Ghetto Boys. 36th Street. Primera Flats. Street Saints. “Most of those started as neighborhood football teams, nothing more,” he says. “Some of these 14-year-old gang members don’t even know their history.” Torres focuses on what he calls “shot-callers,” he says. “I know who’s who, and who has warrants out on them. If things are heating up, I’ll approach the shot-callers and say, ‘I know you got these two chickenshit warrants and the holidays are coming, we can talk about what’s going on or I can take you in.’ Then I try to let them know that I recognize what they see in themselves: that they command respect on the street and people will listen to them.” Part psychologist and part big brother, Torres gets into gang members’ heads, relying on common sense, an understanding of human nature — and the police manual. “The manual says true effectiveness is based on crime reduction, but the department doesn’t train officers to set goals, and there is too much emphasis on generating statistics,” says Torres, who has obsessive habits such as photocopying directives and posting them around the precinct. His idea of leadership is limited by the police bureaucracy, however, so he makes the most of what he can control. “We need to take ownership of our areas,” he says, pointing to tagging crews as an example of his own brand of three-strikes justice that diverts teenagers before they advance to more serious crimes. “If a kid screws up once and I catch him, he knows he gets a second chance. I’ll go and talk to his parents and let them know what their kid is into. If they screw up a second time, they might get another chance, but no more than that. Too many chances and they don’t take you seriously,” he says. Part of the challenge is getting through to parents, he says. “They say, ‘My kid is not in any gang,’ and I show them the red paint on their kid’s index finger from tagging and ask, ‘Then what is this?’ If the community knows you are not looking to screw people over, they respect that. And it forces parents to open their eyes. Sometimes they call me and ask me to talk to their kids, if they aren’t getting through to them.” Torres pulls a U-turn and crosses Adams Boulevard, pointing to the building where his parents lived after moving from Guadalajara in 1966. “That’s where I was conceived,” he says, adding that he was born in nearby California Hospital. Moments later he’s honking his car horn and waving to his grandfather, who is sitting on his porch. Torres, who has three older brothers, three older sisters and two younger brothers, lives with his parents Timoteo and Lucia, one street over. A graduate of Cal State L.A., he has run four L.A. Marathons and traveled in Russia, China, India and Tibet. He says his travels and readings on Buddhism have enlightened him to the power of the inner self. His intense introspection and commitment to his job have come at a price. In 2002, he and his wife Diana, a legal secretary, divorced. She grew tired of feeling less a priority than Torres’ job, he says. Their two children live with her in Eagle Rock. “We’re better friends now,” Torres says. In fact, Diana is the campaign treasurer. His father owns Torres Construction, and most of his siblings work in the family business. Such closeness shaped him early in life, he says, although he grew up an introvert. “My parents gave me a bike, and we had a long driveway, and they said here is where you can ride your bike.” Veteran cops in Newton sensed something different early on about Torres. For starters, officers living on their patrol beats are almost unheard of. Then there was Torres’ work ethic, which was tireless, according to Senior Lead Officer Bobby Hill, who nevertheless opposed his promotion to senior lead. “Peter is one of the few officers who seriously takes his work home with him,” Hill says. “But I was not supportive of him being promoted, and I let him know it. I didn’t think he was ready. We had words. Peter said, ‘Let me prove myself.’ I kept waiting for him to fall on his face. Now, with the least amount of time in the division among our senior leads, he’s delivered the best results in terms of crime reduction, targeting potential crimes and earning respect in the community. Gang members will flag him down to talk,” Hill continues. “He always comes away with active information — without making any promises. He’ll try one approach, and if he doesn’t have success, he’ll try another.” The first thing Torres did when he got promoted was put out a survey to 30 people per block on about 10 blocks to identify the community’s concerns. “I wanted everything out in the open, how they felt about Newton Division, LAPD, everything,” he says. “If I was to use them as an asset, I had to get them to talk with me, otherwise we’d always be bullshitting each other.” Besides gang activity, Torres’ survey — answered by half the recipients and filed by him at the precinct — identified speeding cars and garbage-strewn alleys as common complaints. To clean up alleys, he flagged down sanitation trucks on the weekends and pitched in hauling trash and large items such as old sofas. To slow down speeding cars, he sought out members of the community to take down license plate numbers, then he would find the drivers and engage them in conversation. “Usually they’d have no insurance or outstanding tickets and I’d say, ‘Hey, the last thing I want to do is take away your car, but if I hear you’re speeding, that’s what I’m going to do.’ I might not solve the problem 100 percent, but word of mouth spreads like wildfire in this community, and people see that you’re not being an asshole but just doing your job.” Torres reads all of the division’s paperwork from the previous 24 hours before starting his shift. He says a review of the thick stack of documents allows him to spot the officers who are going the extra mile so he can enlist their support or offer encouragement. For instance, he says, “If I see a guy write a ticket for marijuana possession, I know that person is hustling, because that paperwork is a pain in the ass and nobody likes to do it,” Torres says. “Also, I can look for people who have been arrested who live on my beat, so when I see them I can mention it to them. It makes me look like the Wizard of Oz, like I’m everywhere. If someone’s car is stolen, I’ll know about it, and that surprises people. It gets their attention. Everything helps in its own little way.” Not every technique works, Torres says, and he has had to learn from his mistakes. “You can’t schedule a huge community cleanup day for two patrol areas because maybe five people will show up, and you won’t get anything done,” he says. “The department needs to do things on a smaller scale. I haven’t learned from any way other than going door-to-door. But the department can’t channel that from the top down. It has to come from the street and work its way up. I try to encourage the officers in my area. Some younger guys are altruistic and want to make a difference like this. We don’t need more 45-year-old veterans on the front lines. We need younger guys with more drive on the front lines.” Sergio Juarez, a pastor who lives on 35th Street, has seen the difference Torres has made. “We used to have shootings all the time around here,” says Juarez, a short man with piercing blue eyes. “If the police did not come, we would call Peter, even if he was off-duty. He’s been part of our history.” Juarez points to bullet holes in a pillar in front of his house and recalls a revenge killing several years ago of a teenager who had just gotten out of jail. An atmosphere of intimidation once existed, he says. “The neighbors were afraid to speak,” Juarez says. Torres encouraged residents on the block to work together, and with him, and not to give in to the gangs, he says. “He brought a sanitation truck to clean up the garbage and took us to the Police Academy for seminars on LAPD policy,” Juarez says. “It changed our mentality toward the police.”  

(Top): Trying to take his campaignfrom the streets to City Hall(Bottom): A cop morecomfortable out of his car

Police work has been more than a steppingstone for Torres, but it also was not his first choice. In 1987, Torres called on City Councilman Gilbert Lindsey and offered his services as a volunteer. “I’ve known since my late teens that I wanted to improve that shit hole,” he says, referring to the blighted areas surrounding his neighborhood. Lindsey’s staff informed Torres that council was in session, so Torres sat for three hours and watched as Lindsey, well into his 80s and in poor health by then, dozed off and periodically awoke to speak on subjects that had been discussed 15 minutes earlier. “I knew I could do better than that,” Torres says. When Lindsey, known by some as a friend of big business, died in office in 1990, Torres, then a 24-year-old grassroots activist, tried to get on the ballot to no avail. In 1997, after joining the LAPD but before he became a senior lead officer, Torres ran for City Council with little government experience. He took 26 percent of the vote against incumbent Rita Walters, with virtually no money and a half-page mailer sent to a few thousand people. “I’ve always seen neglect for the 9th District, and it’s been my commitment to do something about it for the last 20 years,” Torres says. After losing, he threw himself into policing and thought he had found his calling, he says, particularly after becoming a senior lead officer and expanding his influence in the community. But Torres cannot sit idly by, he says; a voice in City Hall is lacking for poor and working people while downtown developers benefit from tax breaks and growth opportunities. Worse, says Torres, his community is becoming a support zone for the long-range goals essential to the development of downtown: dispersing the homeless and building schools nearby to attract upwardly mobile residents to lofts and luxury apartments going up at a rapid pace. “I’d like to see the southern part of the district get 1 percent of the tax breaks and infusion of capital that downtown gets,” he says. Parking his car on 29th near Maple Street, Torres sets out on foot. The downtown skyline is visible in the distance behind him as he walks south on the narrow sidewalk, passing mannequins in front of boutiques and a car wash before stopping at a storefront near 32nd and Maple to talk to Erlinda Carrillo, a 43-year-old accountant. Carrillo says local residents and business owners have received notices that the school district is exercising its right of eminent domain to seize property to make way for new school construction. A new high school was built recently less than a mile away, she says. “This is an old neighborhood with families and businesses,” Carrillo says. “Why can’t they tear down the warehouses over on Main and Broadway that have hardly any employees?” She suspects developers are eyeing her neighborhood and that Los Angeles Unified School District president Jose Huizar is too. “We have what downtown wants,” says Torres. “Houses and families and culture, with businesses that people walk to. If downtown is to grow, then let us grow too.” The last straw, Torres says, was when he saw violent crime go down in his area but property crime go up, from 492 thefts and break-ins in 2003 to 539 last year — a 9.6 percent increase he attributes in part to New Image, a homeless shelter near 38th Street and Broadway. Every night a school bus from Skid Row drops homeless men off at New Image, he says. In the morning the bus takes the men back to the Row, where they receive social services and pick up day labor. Problem is, Torres says, not everyone gets back on the bus. “I’ve seen tents in this neighborhood for the first time in my life,” he says. “I know my homeless. I see a new face and ask where they’re from, and they say they used to live at the Roslyn Hotel, which closed down. There are single-family houses less than two blocks away from this shelter. It was wrong to have allowed this to occur.” Jan Perry says the shelter is an important facility to alleviate the burden of homelessness on Skid Row. Tai Glenn, a housing-law expert with the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, says downtown Los Angeles has the highest income and the poorest residents. “It is the crucible of a housing crisis,” she says. “If people in nearby areas aren’t worried, they should be.” Skid Row is an intractable problem that has vexed city officials, housing and civil rights activists and property owners for years. But the disconnect between City Hall and neighborhoods like Torres’ motivates him to force change, he says. The problems on the street may be well known, he says, but too often they are ignored or given lip service. Con Howe, the head of the City Planning Department, says he is unaware of a redevelopment plan for this area. “The idea of a radiating downtown development would scare residents,” he says. Howe acknowledges the school district faces tough choices in reducing overcrowding, and that warehouses often are contaminated and unsafe for new schools. “People end up in a circle pointing at one another looking for the right site to build on,” Howe says. “Understandably people don’t want to lose their homes, but sometimes they get pretty good money.” Perry considers herself a leader in addressing homelessness and takes exception to criticism that school construction comes at the expense of existing homeowners. “I’ve spent a lot of time fighting the school district over construction sites,” she says. “I’ve offered to develop brownfields.” Of her critics she says, “The residents are reactive. I don’t need to get into slamming [Torres]. I know he’s got his little following.” Torres is running for City Council on the slogan that “Nobody knows the 9th District better than Peter Torres.” But it’s not mutual. Torres is not exactly a household name in the district. Newton Division, to which Torres has a more valid claim, is geographically one of the smallest police divisions in Los Angeles, from Seventh Street to Florence Avenue and from the Harbor Freeway to Alameda Street. The council district, one of the city’s largest, includes five police divisions from the 101 freeway to 96th Street, and from Normandie Avenue to Santa Fe Street. Perry has been working in City Hall for 15 years and enjoys the benefits of incumbency, including the support of city agencies and the political and financial establishments. Torres is not deterred by his lack of stature in the vast, mostly black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles — or his lack of support from city workers, lobbyists, power brokers and insiders. He says Latino voters who helped elect Perry, who is African-American, are backing him, and that African-Americans in troubled parts of the 9th District are unhappy with what he describes as second-class representation. Plus, he says, Latino voters have doubled since 1997, when he lost in his first bid for City Council. Never mind that Perry has raised 10 times more money and is supported by major law firms, developers and real estate companies — not to mention the police union. Or that Torres is campaigning with a mere $40,000 — $30,000 of which he loaned to himself. Perry and Torres seem to have some antipathy toward each other. Race has become an issue. Their squabbles date back to 1997, when Perry filed a complaint against Torres for violating city election laws by talking with voters at a polling place. Torres was on a leave of absence to run for City Council, and Perry was chief of staff to Rita Walters, the incumbent at the time. According to Perry, she merely filed complaints with the city clerk that had been submitted to her by voters. Yet LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division identified her as the complainant against Torres and concluded that “this allegation appears to have been fabricated and is clearly unfounded.” Colleagues of Torres say Perry also has filed a more recent complaint against him with Internal Affairs based on a visit he made while in uniform to a charity event in December hosted by Guardian Angels, a neighborhood-watch group on San Pedro Street in Newton Division that supports Torres. He says he was simply checking in with the event for security purposes. Sources say Perry made an additional complaint. “I suggest you inquire with the Ethics Commission,” she replies, when asked to confirm those reports. (The Ethics Commission does not confirm a complaint until an investigation is complete.) “Frankly,” adds Perry, “I think people are better off not becoming obsessed with their opponent.” Perry has made an issue of an op-ed endorsing Torres, which he posted on his Web site. The article appeared in La Revista, a Spanish-language weekly paper. In the last line it says, “If Peter Torres wins, La Raza wins.” Torres concedes he made a mistake. “It was a positive article and I thought, do I not use it just because of this one line?” he says. “My father called me and was disappointed. I’m taking it down from the Web site.” But not before Perry brandished it in front of his supporters, says Torres, who denies any suggestion that he’s a racist. The rivalry between Torres and Perry was stoked by Perry’s endorsement from the Police Protective League. Sources say Perry threatened not to support the police in future contract negotiations when she learned the police union was considering a dual endorsement of her and Torres. The union later threw its full support to Perry, although several sources say the rank and file support Torres, and resent the union for not backing him. Perry denies she threatened the union. “As councilwoman,” Perry says, “I talk to union liaisons about a new police headquarters, which they are very interested in, and contract negotiations, but my talks with union leaders as a candidate have been limited to asking if they made up their mind.” Says a senior lead officer in Newton: “The members wanted to go with Torres. The union caved to the incumbent.” Bob Baker, president of the police union, did not return calls for comment. Perhaps the oddest beef concerns Torres’ former residence, a 20-unit apartment building at 1005 Towne Avenue that no longer exists but over which controversy lingers. Coincidentally, Perry also used to live at 1005 Towne Avenue, near Skid Row, she says, although Torres insists he saw either her or her car on the premises less than a half dozen times during the two years they both would have lived there, during 2001 and 2002. In April 2004, residents of the building received notice that the owner, Saeed Farkhondehpour, a developer with Towne Plaza Development Inc. and a Perry campaign contributor, intended to demolish and redevelop the property. The Housing Department notified Farkhondehpour of his obligation to provide relocation assistance to the tenants and assigned a rent investigator to oversee the process. However, instead of assistance the tenants received 60-day eviction notices and instructions from Perry’s office to look to the Housing Department, which dropped the case when it determined it didn’t fall within its jurisdiction. Tenants were forced to hire lawyers to advise them in their relocation. Although he and the other tenants eventually received their relocation expenses, the incident still rubs Torres the wrong way. In an interview published in La Revista, which Torres also posted on his Web site but recently took down, he said Perry had lived in the 9th District just three years to his 35 years, and never south of the 10 freeway. He also charged that she has never worked in the community and has done nothing to reduce crime. In interviews with the Weekly, he further says it is a disturbing coincidence that one of Perry’s campaign contributors tried to evict him and his fellow tenants. Perry insists her office worked with lawyers from Legal Aid to help the residents. “That guy was nasty,” she says of Farkhondehpour. “He fought tooth and nail.” Farkhondehpour could not be reached for comment. As for Torres’ other attacks, Perry takes exception. “I have a lot of faith that people believe I did a good job and have been inclusive and forthright in dealing with community issues facing families on a daily basis,” she says. The sky over downtown is turning black, so Torres heads back to his car. Along the way young men nod and mutter, “ ’S up, Torres.” The 36th Street Gang has its name spray-painted in huge letters on the side of one building. Graffiti on another reads: “Enron + Guns = LAPD.” Torres notes that his movements are being closely monitored by a woman who is illegally selling fruit and vegetables from a truck, and vendors who have laid out pirated CDs on the sidewalk. “People think I’m working undercover or out of uniform today,” he says. Several blocks up a homeless black man on a bicycle stops and shakes Torres’ hand, and thanks him incoherently for something that happened long ago. Moments later Torres sees the same man buy crack from a Latino in a white sedan on Woodlawn Avenue — the bicycle barely coming to a stop for the transaction. Back behind the wheel of the Toyota, Torres turns down a dead end off Main Street. He pulls up to a tarp-covered hovel, rolls down his window and shouts, “Hey, Ronnie! It’s me, Peter.” Ronnie stumbles out, red-eyed, and Torres asks him if the after-hours rave is still happening on that block. “Every night,” Ronnie says. Torres thanks him for the information and drives off. “I’ve called vice a couple times already,” he says. (A week later, acting on Torres’ lead, 25 officers from Newton Division raided the illegal club, seizing two guns, narcotics and two slot machines, and arresting six people.) About an hour later, after stopping for a beer at Mal’s, a bar on Hill Street near 24th, where he plays Bob Marley and the Doors on the jukebox, Torres walks out just as some youths have finished tagging a wall two blocks south. Figuring he’s caught them in the act, he whips out his cell phone and calls a patrolman to alert him of the crime. But the kids have already seen Torres, and a northbound bus comes along in time for them to jump on. Torres watches as the bus drives right by. “Cancel that,” he says into his cell phone. As he returns to his headquarters, Torres talks of the challenges that police officers face in this part of town. “I’ve never pulled my trigger,” he says, “but I’ve been shot at.” He tells a story about stopping just short of shooting one suspect who was waving a gun in the dark near the side of someone’s house; turns out the suspect was blind. Then there was the suspect high on PCP who tried to tear out a chunk of Torres’ partner’s arm with his teeth. “It was 2 a.m. and we were in an alley. I was running out of breath and had to call for backup. I didn’t want to take a chance of injuring my partner,” he says. Returning to the subject of Officer Steve Garcia, the recent killing of 13-year-old Devin Brown and a pending investigation, he says, “If they fry Steve they’ll need 9,000 more cops to make up for the loss in morale. That will burn people up.” Torres is a pure cop in that regard. But he’s not typical in his approach to community policing. Captain Fabian Lizaragga, now of Van Nuys Division, says of Torres: “He grew up in Newton and he likes working there. He takes his senior-lead role to heart. He puts in maximum effort. His commitment to the community comes through. Peter never waits for a structured meeting to take initiative. If he sees people gathering for any reason, he gets a dialogue going. People respond to that. It produces the kind of information we rely on.” Torres’ methods have garnered attention from commanding officers in LAPD. In January, he received an e-mail from Captain Paul Kim, a 22-year police veteran and former Marine captain, now in Harbor Division. “I know your method works,” Kim wrote, inviting Torres’ suggestions for the LAPD’s training division, which Kim leads. Senior lead officers outside Newton Division have taken notice as well. Officer Mike Shea of 77th Street Division knows Torres as a gregarious officer who has invigorated his community. Shea experimented with parking his car with the lights on and inviting neighbors outside to talk; however, it didn’t work for him. “Participation from the community is like the Holy Grail of community policing,” Shea says. “But every car area and every community is different. Being from the neighborhood and fluent in Spanish is a huge plus for him. We all don’t have the magic key. Maybe that’s why he’s so successful. Sure, I’d like to copy him, emulate him, plagiarize from him. I can advise, cajole or beg, but I can’t force people to participate.” Torres says his approach has rubbed off on his colleagues. “One-on-one contact with the community requires getting out of your car, and that is key,” he says. “But the beauty of community policing is when I bring in the other officers and tell the community: These guys are the ones that are going to help you. It’s a mutual engagement. The police need it just as much as community needs it. I think it would be better if more cops lived in the city. If every cop stepped it up a little more, we could do the job.”

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