In his announcement this week that he would put 130 officers back on regular patrols, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck failed to emphasize that the move would break up an effective, mobile, crime-saturation unit that has been used to target gangs and problem areas in the city.
Those 130 officers are not coming from desk duty, as we and others in the media reported this week. Rather they're coming from the Los Angeles Police Department's Crime Reduction and Enforcement
Reduction of Warrants Task Force, also known as CREW, an LAPD official confirmed to LA Weekly Wednesday. The unit was established by Chief William Bratton to take crime statistics and then saturate problem areas with patrols and parole and probation checks.
The 130-person unit, staffed with younger officers, was mobile and could hit any part of the city on short notice. It was used to move in on gangs that had presented problems in places such as Harbor Gateway, where Latino sets were targeting black civilians, and Canoga Park, where the Canoga Park Alabama gang was believed responsible for shootings and other crimes.
Retired LAPD gang lieutenant Gary Nanson says the unit was invaluable in fighting gang crime at a time when gang units have been understaffed and other citywide units such as the Metropolitan Division have been nudged toward other duties. He said the team could put 50 officers in a neighborhood rapidly not only to clean up gang crime but in cases of major emergencies. (He mentioned that if the infamous, 1997 North Hollywood shootout between cops and bank robbers happened today, the CREW team would have been dispatched).
"Every now and then in the paper Bratton would say, 'I'm going to put 50 officers over here and saturate it,' and CREW is what he was talking about," Nanson says. "It guaranteed you always had a citywide, mobile group of 50 officers you could insert somewhere for a very strong police presence to address whatever the crime problem was."
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Beck is under pressure to solve the department's $80 million deficit at a time when the city itself faces $400 million of operational red ink. At this point the city can barely afford to maintain its levels of officer employment. So Beck has to nip and tuck and find ways to get badges on the street. The chief spun this redeployment as one way to get that done, and he has said he'll look at other specialized units for sources of more badges for daily street duty.
"It's going to be a reality that the operational areas are going to need more resources, and those can only come from one place, and that's the specialized divisions," Beck told the Police Commission this week.
Nanson doesn't disagree. But he says CREW is one unit he would leave alone.
"I personally believe that the LAPD has too many very specialized units now, so I agree with Chief Beck that it would be smart to look at each one and see if the need really supports them," Nanson said. But CREW, he said, "is your ace in the hole to handle any emergency in the city without drawing from someone else's resources."