Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Bill Murphy celebrated the New Year at the Griffith Observatory, where he had gone to reaffirm—only half-jokingly—that the world hadn’t ended, as some believed the Mayan calendar had predicted.
Since then, the commander of the LAPD Northeast Community Station had been busy trying to ensure that his 30-square-mile division’s crime-fighting efforts in 2013 get off to an encouraging start. Part of that effort is a sweeping Senior Lead Officer reshuffle rooted in the retirement next week and in February of two veteran SLOs assigned for years to Silver Lake and Echo Park.
Murphy sat down with Patch Thursday to discuss his reorganization of the Northeast’s SLO beat and a range of related issues, including the recent proliferation of massage parlors in the Eagle Rock area and the monitoring of individuals in the Northeast who have been released since 2011 under Assembly Bill 109, designed to reduce the number of people in state prisons.
Patch: Tell us about the Senior Lead Officer reshuffling.
Capt. Murphy: What happened was that two Senior Lead Officers are retiring—Bobby Hill in Echo Park and Al Polehonki in Silver Lake. Bobby’s retirement is next week and Al is retiring in February. Bobby will have 29 years of service and Al 33 when he retires. So I had two vacancies that were coming up. I also had some other Senior Lead Officers who had come up to me and said they’d been in an area for a long time and that it would be good to have a change—a challenge to learn a whole other neighborhood.
So I sat down and thought about it. I’ve been here five years. I never moved the Senior Lead Officers. I thought this was a good opportunity to move them—it would give them a new opportunity meet new people. The job is the same. We’re all first of all Los Angeles police officers, then we’re Northeast police officers, and then you’re down to your basic car.
Since this has got out into the community, I’ve had community members calling me up and sending me e-mails, saying, Oh, don’t send him out of Northeast. No one’s going out of Northeast. They’re simply going from one neighborhood to a different neighborhood. They’re still senior leads. Instead of Eagle Rock they may work Glassell Park or East Hollywood or Silver Lake or something like that. And for most of them it’s a quick little shuffle. Like Mark Allen is North Highland Park—he’s going to South Highland Park. Many of them are going to adjacent neighborhoods. And there isn’t a SLO here who hasn’t been to all the neighborhoods multiple times. Every one of them routinely goes into each other’s neighborhoods and handles problems, gives community speeches, stuff like that.
This year, we want to improve service delivery, especially in our social media, which my bosses acknowledge is the best out of all the 21 LAPD stations. For Senior Lead Officers taking on a new assignment it will be a challenge. They’ll have to work meeting after meeting to get to know all the new players. I think there’s a strong benefit for everyone.
For the public, I want to say that I don’t take moving a senior lead lightly. I know you get to know them well, which is as it should be. We want stability with Senior Lead Officers. But it’s good from time to time to change and meet new people.
So in Eagle Rock you’re going to get Nina Preciado. She’s been a Senior Lead Officer for about four years. Gina Chovan is going to go from Atwater and Los Feliz to Echo Park. Lenny Davis is going from East Hollywood to Silver Lake. Leo Rey is going [from Mount Washington and Glassell Park] to Los Feliz and Atwater. And we’re putting in temporary senior leads. Fernando Ochoa and Adam Mezquita—they work community relations—both of them have filled in as senior lead officers many times. Fernando’s going to take North Highland Park. And Adam’s going to take Cypress Park and Glassell Park.
I’m also trying to get promotable positions to fill in the two vacancies. We’ll have a competition—a new process to select who the new SLOs will be. But because of the city’s budget situation and the department’s budget, I have to request that and there’s no guarantee I’ll get it. I think eventually I’ll get it because they realize SLOs are important. I’m pressuring my bosses to do it as fast as they could possibly do it. The transition will be a week from this Sunday [week of Jan. 27]. I’m going to do a YouTube broadcast before that and you can see it on our Northeast Facebook page.
The word is that Eagle Rock Senior Lead Officer Craig Orange is not too happy about going to East Hollywood.
Capt. Murphy: Well, some of them like it [the reshuffle] and some of them don’t. And I feel for them. I think it’s a natural reaction with senior leads. About half of the SLOs, given the option, would stay where they are. Because they get comfortable—they know the players, the community and they know the crime. I’ve had multiple talks with them in meetings and I told them a few months ago that this would probably happen. So it wasn’t like one day I woke up and told them they’re moving. A lot of thought went into it. Having been here five years, I know all the SLOs and their strengths and weaknesses. No one works more closely with the captain than the senior lead officers. So I know them better than I know anyone else here.
Craig is a very good street police officer. He likes working grand theft auto and being the senior lead in operations. I think it will be very beneficial for us to put him in East Hollywood. East Hollywood’s crime versus Eagle Rock crime is way higher. Our two pockets of high-density crime are East Hollywood and the Fig corridor over by Highland Park. Those are our fast-paced areas.
How much of an issue are massage parlors in the Northeast?
Capt. Murphy: They definitely are an issue. We’ve always had massage parlors. But they seem to have exploded about three years ago, especially in Eagle Rock, but also in East Hollywood. From the perspective of the people who live in Eagle Rock and what they’ve been telling me in countless meetings, they’re really upset.
First they had medical marijuana that hit four-and-a-half or five years ago. And then they had massage parlors. So their view of quality of life in the neighborhood went down. They view people smoking marijuana in the street and drinking a beer as a bad thing, and I agree with them.
Many of the massage parlors are a front for prostitution. Some are obviously legit. That’s the reality—that’s why we constantly work them. We have to get all of our Vice officers trained especially for that. I’m trying to green light more operations in Eagle Rock because of the problem up there. We did a count two days ago and came up with 26 massage parlors between Eagle Rock and York [Boulevard] in North Highland Park.
Some of them are real masseuses who get all the training and are certified. Others just buy a business license and open up a shop. There are different things we can do. If you’re a real masseuse and you got caught doing prostitution, we can yank your state license—the one you got with all that training.
Normally, we don’t enforce business licenses that much. We focus on criminal behavior. But we’re trying to streamline the enforcement of business licenses. So, if we get a violation, then via our Police Commission, we agree that [the city] will pull a violator’s business license. We’re working with Councilman [José] Huizar’s office. He’s been all over this [issue] and he understands the community is upset about it.
That being said, what happens is that just as in the case of medical marijuana, we shut massage parlors down and a week later they open up with a new owner and a new name. A business license is simple to get. So, the violation was on Joe and now Bob owns the store. It reminds me of the old days when you’d take a dealer down selling raw cocaine on the streets and 20 minutes later another one popped up.
How many nonviolent offenders are there in the Northeast who have released from state prisons under AB 109? Does the fact they aren’t parolees make it harder to keep tabs on them?
Capt. Murphy: When you’re on parole or probation, there are conditions involved with it that we can check on. Remember, probation is that you agree to something so that you wouldn’t to go jail; parole is that you agree to the conditions so that you get out jail early. But this thing [AB 109] was set up so that there are no real conditions on it, so it’s very problematic.
We’re tracking about 150 of them right now in the Northeast. And every month the number goes by about eight. There’s thousands of them still being released. I have a Parolee Compliance Unit that does the job of the old parole officers. Quite honestly, that was a classic pass-the-buck thing. The state passed it the local municipals, and we now have to perform that function. Sad—I wish it didn’t occur. But that’s what ended up happening.
Where do the people released under AB 109 live? Do they live in motels, too?
Capt. Murphy: Some do. Some live in group homes—sort of like half-way houses—so we identify where those are. There are three or four of them in our area and multiple people who fit into AB 109 go there. If they don’t have a location, then the state will send them to a half-way house to establish themselves and try to get a job and so on.
The vast majority of them just go out and they have an address—it could be their mother’s house or sister’s house or girlfriend or friend. The only problem is that because they aren’t on parole status, they’re really not under any obligation to tell us where they live. Many of them do. But some of them could just make up an address. So we do waste a lot of time trying to find them if their address is not accurate.