Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LAPD Deputy Chief Embraced Community to Police

Widely Admired LAPD Deputy Chief Brought the True Spirit of Community Policing With Him No Matter What Precinct He Served

By Diana L. Chapman

He did some of the smallest things imaginable.

He returned phone calls.

He set up water polo and basketball games between his officers and community kids. Sometimes he even played in them. As the captain of the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Division, he closed down an entire street Halloween night so parents and children could trick-or-treat safely in the neighborhood saturated with crime. His officers policed the event.

Most of all, LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, who retires from  the department Aug. 31, listened to people like you and me.

"He was a saint," said Neal Kleiner, who met Gannon when he was principal at one of the toughest middle schools -- John Muir  -- in the 77th Division. Having called Gannon's predecessor and never getting a response, Kleiner was astonished when Gannon, then the new captain, called him without provocation.

"He initiated a call to me and visited Muir," Kleiner said still with amazement. "He let me know that his men were there to service the community and if I needed help to call. He was a frequent visitor to the school and met with the staff and parents and he demonstrated a genuine concern for my school and the community."

Said Mike Lansing, the Harbor Area Boys and Girls Club executive director: "Pat always supported the Boys and Club and the work we do. He advocated for kids through his police work and had officers interact with our members -- including playing basketball. Sometimes, Pat even played himself. He is one of the great leaders who actually wanted to know what we did -- he took the time to listen and engage our members."

Gannon, 56, retires not because he wants to, but because he signed on to an economically savvy retirement package the LAPD offered years ago which he now regrets.

"I could have stayed forever," said Gannon, who plans to look for other police work. "I'm going to continue working. It was interesting to me. I worked  cases. I solved them and I enjoyed that."

A powerful advocate of building strong police relations with the communities it serves, Gannon considers it a necessary tool to repair old wounds,  prevent crime and show that officers do care. He demonstrated that repeatedly throughout the course of his work when he became captain of both Harbor Division in 2003 and then shifted in 2005 to the 77th division before being promoted to deputy chief for Operations-South Bureau.

Gannon, who grew up in San Pedro, comes from a third generation LAPD family with his son, Michael, now on the force. Gannon held posts from officer, to detective, to child abuse investigator -- and all facets of the operations until he rose to deputy chief, one of the most high-ranking posts on the force.

His attitude about policing practices changed dramatically after the 1992 riots where four white LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of African-American Rodney King, caught on video.

The verdict sparked explosions of violence which rippled across parts of South Los Angeles and left Gannon in shock. Weren't police doing what the community wanted: tearing down drug houses, putting bad guys in jail, catching murderers?

"It was a breakdown in everything I believed in," he said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought people would turn on us. I was crushed. It was a defining moment. "

Since that time, Gannon said it was clear the department needed to adopt a new philosophy.  He found himself more attuned to those on the force who embraced the concept of working closely with its residents.

Of course, it wasn't always like that. Gannon was a tough, no-nonsense cop having  grown up on Dragnet's stern "just the facts mam." He  followed the trail of his grandfather, an LAPD detective and his father, an LAPD officer and a belief that arresting the bad guys was what the community needed and wanted.

"I have loved the LAPD from the moment I joined the department," Gannon said."When I started as a police officer I was 22-years-old. I didn't know what to expect. My father who was a retired police officer by then gave me advice, but he did not tell a lot of war stories. As a result, I went into the job with a lot of enthusiasm, but no idea of what I was getting into.

"It was different in those days," Gannon added. "My training officers were all Vietnam War veterans. They worked hard, smoked like chimneys and rarely thought anyone outside of law enforcement had a clue of how to reduce crime."

They were also officers dealing with the new phenomena of crack cocaine and PCP, which could turn its users into wild, but incredibly powerful and deadly suspects "and thousands became addicted to those drugs over night," he said.

Initially, it was "us versus them."

After the riots, Gannon realized that became a must-scrub attitude. He dedicated himself to community policing and partnered with residents of the area to lessen tensions and garner their trust -- a model he wanted his officers to follow.

When he captained the 77th Division, for example, a man named Edgar Hernandez dropped in to see him. Hernandez was determined to get his boys safely off to college despite the lure of bad elements in his neighborhood.

 What Hernandez wanted was for Gannon to reach out to the fearful Spanish speaking community-- residents who came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- to teach them they didn't have to fear the police. Through their work together, they established Friday night meetings where community members received a "mini-civic "lesson and were trained in case of catastrophic events, such as basic first aid and turning power off. Gannon attended many.

The Friday night meetings, now having grown to about 70 residents, continue to this day and Gannon likes to point out with that Hernandez's eldest son is an engineering graduate from MIT and his other son is attending California State University, Northridge.

"He was such a dynamo," Gannon said of Hernandez. "He's still out there organizing community members. His ideas were just great."

I too was graced with Gannon's community spirit. Like principal Kleiner, I had contacted Gannon's predecessor, the Harbor Division Captain, to see if officers could come play water polo against the kids at Peck Park Pool in San Pedro.

That captain said no -- despite the picture I painted. Then, it was a pool filled with kids who didn't blink when gang members arrived, but were petrified when police showed up. They raced out of the pool, some crying and asking if they would be arrested.

When I met Gannon at a press conference right after he became Harbor Division captain, I started to introduce myself, saying I was an advocate for the kids at the pool. Before I asked for anything, he said: "You know what I'd really like is to have my officers come play water polo with the kids."

I was shocked and gratefully accepted. There were several games between Peck youths and officers over the years Gannon served -- and the kids enjoyed it, especially when they won.

"Pat Gannon exemplifies the core LAPD value of integrity," said Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, who Gannon recruited to the LAPD and mentored for years before he ran for office. "He has had a successful and rewarding career because of his strong ties to the community. The community-based policing is in Pat Gannon's DNA and he has been successful because of it."

It's a DNA our community is going to miss.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ten Years of College Bound Success Stories

Leland Williams, 18, (left), Yesenia Hernandez, 18, and Leland's brother, Marsellas, 19, return to the club to see other success stories on the Boys and Girls Club walls.

Anabel Jimenez when she graduated from the College Bound program four years ago.
By Diana L. Chapman

She was quiet and shy, but Anabel Jimenez -- the subject of complex poverty and a deeply broken home -- knew she could be an "awesome statistic." While living a "Cinderella" lifestyle, she dreamed of becoming a family court judge.

The problem: she was 16 and had no map to get there. No parents aiding her. No money. She enrolled in the Boys and Girls Club College Bound program in San Pedro finding a new path.

Today, Jimenez, now 22, an unstoppable university graduate with plans to study law, has her eye on becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The Boys and Girls Club program, she said, gave her the "tools to navigate" through the college application process, provided a surrogate family and helped her snare a full ride to University of California, San Diego.

"Impoverished folk are surrounded by a world of negativity," Jimenez said. "Kids are taught to survive by being tough. But I needed more. I needed kindness, support  and people who believed in me. The Boys and Girls club gave me that hope and (taught me) kindness is not a weakness."  

Jimenez is one of hundreds that the College Bound program vaulted into success stories -- despite that its first year in 2002-2003 it met with dismal failure. Only one student went to college that year. Founder Mike Lansing knew he was missing something. Once he figured that out, the Harbor Area Boys and Girls club college numbers surged. Over the past four years , about 1,000 of its members trekked their way to a higher education trail and a chance to escape devastating poverty, gangs and crime.

That  first year, however, Lansing spent time figuring out what went wrong with his original equation.

The report was grim. Sitting in his office as the executive director of the Harbor Areas Boys and Girls Club, Lansing was dismayed to see high school aged kids wandering the streets while school was in session.

Asking  staff for a report, he learned that 50 percent of his members weren't graduating from high school -- a figure he knew doomed his members to life on the edge of gangs, drugs and poverty. That was ten years ago.

Lansing wanted to break that cycle and believed college was the way to do it. The first year he built a team of excellent volunteer professionals and a coordinator to prep his youth with the necessary college courses, SATs and essays. When only one senior went to college, he knew something went wrong.

The trouble: No one on the team could relate to the kid's troubles -- or be a role model.  He needed someone who understood their lives and who used college to get out and he knew exactly who fit the bill.

Yesenia Aguilar had finished her Bachelor's Degree at San Jose State University and was working on her teaching credential when he called to ask if she'd run College Bound.  He had tutored her when he volunteered at the club (before he landed the post) and was impressed by her determination to go to university.

"She was the poster child for College Bound," Lansing said. "She was the first in the family to go to college. Her brothers were gang members. Her parents were divorced. She was from an immigrant family with financial hardships."

Aguilar returned and helped turn the tide. She case managed and then oversaw College Bound at all the club's sites.

"There was no turning back after that," Aguilar. 34, said of her decision to return. "I feel so blessed that I had this opportunity to do what was done for me."

Today, Aguilar, who did get her teaching credential, helps replicate College Bound at other Boys and Girls Clubs, Lansing said, ten in the Los Angeles area and 44 nationwide from Boston to Hawaii.

The  harbor area clubs can now tout sending its members off to all the University of California campuses, all the state schools and across the country, including Notre Dame, Georgetown and Brown universities. 
Williams brothers and their friend Yesenia, says one of their  favorite things is to return to see the wall of new success stories.
This year alone, it was able to help 226 students get $3.6 million in financial aid. 

"The Boys and Girls Club is obviously the place to go," said Leland Williams, 18 who was back for summer from Hawaii Pacific University with his brother. "You can feel college vibes everywhere! I mean there are pictures of college success stories all over the walls!"

"I love the school I am at now, and it is thanks to the Boys and Girls Club for getting me started," said Marsalles Williams, 19.  "I couldn't ask for anything better."

"As I enter my sophomore year at Cornell, I can step back and see the amount of growth I have had and I owe a lot it to the Boys and Girls Club," said Yesenia Hernandez, 18, who attends the small campus in Iowa. "They gave me the sense of empowerment that I'm nurturing today."

As for that Jimenez kid, she graduated from University of California, San Diego, with a major in political science and law, minored in Italian literature, studied abroad, interned with the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. and at San Pedro's Superior Court and attended Harvard's Public Policy Leadership Conference.

She is now running the Boys and Girls Club teen center in Long Beach and in the fall will start working on her Master's Degree in social work at University of Southern California and toward her law degree.

She is no longer shy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

San Pedro High Annex Opens Tuesday

New San Pedro High annex opens to students today.
Jessica (left) and Natalie Martin, 17

As the $80 Million San Pedro High Annex Opens Its Doors Tuesday, Students Getting Treated to the Brand New Package Face The Change With Uncertainty

By Diana L. Chapman

    Students leaving behind 75-year-old San Pedro High to attend its new $80 million annex at Angel's Gate which officially opens today say they have faced a myriad of emotions leaving their flagship school.
   Introduced with great fanfare at a dedication ceremony last week, the John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus -- which was built to relieve overcrowding at San Pedro --  has some students saying they are nervous, scared and delighted all at same time to attend the $80 million facility at the Upper Fort MacArthur Reservation, The state-of-the-art-campus comes complete with ocean breezes, a competitive swimming pool, a gymnasium and a 780-seat amphitheater.
   Two twins who will finish there as seniors offer opposing perspectives.
  "I have never been in a school that's so nice and privileged," said Jessica Martin, 17. "I definitely feel sorry it's only for a certain amount of kids and I feel we are being segregated. Some of our magnet kids already have big heads and this is going to make them bigger."
  Natalie Martin, Jessica's twin, thinks differently.  While she believes it will be challenging -- especially shuttling back and forth for classes between the two schools -- she likes change.
  "I did enjoy San Pedro High, but I welcome the change," she said. "I like this school. It's eco-friendly. This school is open and beautiful and colorful. I feel I deserve to be here. I worked hard for it in my classes. I did extracurricular activities."
  Jessica and her sister are part of the San Pedro High's Marine Magnet, which was relocated to the new campus along with the Police Academy -- both mini-houses so to speak that draw from across the Los Angeles Unified district. Officials believed it was the best way to equalize education at the new facility perched in one of San Pedro's most affluent enclaves. Those two houses brought in about 460 students. Another 40 San Pedro area students were picked via lottery.
   San Pedro High will continue to act -- as the mother ship -- and students at the new campus will have to shuttle back and forth to pick up advance placement classes at the larger school. In addition, the San Pedro High swim team and other athletes will likely end up at the new campus for work outs and training.
   It will be the first time in its history that the high school swim team has ever had its own pool.
   San Pedro High Principal Jeanette Stevens, who will oversee both campuses, views both facilities as treasures that only enhances the programs the school has now.
  "Our new campus is a wonderful opportunity for us to continue to thrive," Stevens said. "Not only are we one school, we have a variety of opportunities for our sports programs to excel through additional play space and workout facilities."
    Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Richard Vladovic, who oversees this region, said in a statement: "The new facility promises to provide our community with a first-class educational experience in a new campus with access to numerous opportunities for years to come."
    While students worry about schedules and shuttling between schools, teacher Jennifer Ritz said with any new school there will be blips in the chart.
   "Every good system has to go through a period of trial and error," said Ritz, a world and advanced placement history teacher who said she too will miss the flagship campus. "But it's on everyone's minds to have as few errors as possible. Everything that's successful takes time."
    A mother and daughter team who were touring the school a few days ago were pleased -- even though the daughter initially didn't want to leave San Pedro High. Mother Carolyn Johnson, a teacher at White Point Elementary, said she was pleased with the school and seeing even the "plant manager light up" when he was talking with students.
   "Even though there's inconvenience and transition, I'm excited for her," Johnson said of her daughter, Maureen "Mo," 17, a competitive rower. "It's new and exciting and it has a new energy."
   Mo, a senior, explained that she was leaving behind half of her friends at the larger school, but had come to terms with that.
Cadet Jose Hernandez (left) and Cadet Jeremy Garcia, both 17 
   Several Police Academy seniors said they hope the new campus will put them on better footing than their old high school where they often were embarrassed to wear their uniforms and believed other students considered them less than equals.
  For once, "It's more like our school," said Cadet Jeremy J. Garcia, 17, also a senior. "We'll be able to do a lot more. We'll have our own field. Our own obstacle course. We'll even have our own role call room. Before we were just sideliners."
    Cadet Jose Hernandez, 17, "At our old school, other kids were like: "You are not part of us." It was awkward just going in your uniform. It's just a stereotype that we're not smart. "
   That could change things, which makes Manny Ortega, a 16-year-old cadet from Gardena happy.
  "It's so exciting, "said Ortega, who couldn't quit smiling. "I'm ready to come back to school."

Monday, August 06, 2012

Hiking with a Bear

No, I did not take this picture. I was too terrified to take any photos. This is a web image.

Trouble Was "Bruin" in the City of Mammoth Lakes

By Diana L. Chapman

   Walking along a trail -- less than a block away from a local clutch of gas stations and eateries in the city of Mammoth Lakes-- my husband and I chatted about my daily doctor ordered exercise.
   The sun belted out warm rays stirring up the peppery scents of sage. A cool wind sagged as the heat began to bear down on us. My eyes shifted down to a small gully gushing with scrub as stunning, almighty mountains towered nearby.
   Beautiful. Breathtaking. Vibrantly bold.
    And then: I spotted a large tree branch. I blinked. My mind refocused.
   No. My mind telegraphed: Bear. Big, big, big bear. Ears, round head, large claws.
   It was sitting silently back in the fold of thickets on his rump. This was nothing like the juvenile we spotted the other day running across a main city street and high-tailing it across a municipal golf course. This guy was no tot. He (if it was a he) was a giant. While he sat stoically, a group of kids biked right by him. They didn't notice.  
   The bear didn't budge.
   Then a man jogged by. He didn't notice either. And, the bear didn't budge.
   I tugged my husband, Jim's T-shirt pulling down hard, and quietly murmured "bear" since it appeared about 25 feet away.This calm demeanor coming from me was surprising considering that since I was a child I had nightly dreams shredded by recurring bear attacks chasing not only me, but my family down trails or relentlessly breaking into our homes with snapping teeth and trying to eat anyone and everything inside.
   "Walk slowly," I said to Jim quietly. "Let's go back to the car," about three walking minutes away.
   I didn't look back. I knew if I did I'd either scream or run -- two major taboos when bumping into bears. (I believe the only reason for my temporary sanity was our nearby SUV).
   Once we arrived at the car and felt a bit safer, we asked a jogger, a local, if he saw it.
   "No, I didn't," he said with disappointment. "Oh, too bad I missed it. Don't worry. It won't hurt you. You can continue your walk. Really. It's safe."
   But all those nightmares since I was a little kid ganged up on me, one after another like a severe case of a dominoes collapsing. They also got the best of Jim since he's listened to story after story for more than 20 years. He didn't especially like the dreams where we're running up higher and higher in a house to get away from bruins chasing us with biting claws and snapping teeth to slice and dice us for dinner.
   Still chicken, we drove to the other side of town to pick up the flat, urban trail. Just to be sure, I asked another woman with a small, scruffy white dog: "Have you see any bears today?"
   "No," she said nonchalantly, "but you know what to do if you see one? Just slowly retreat."
   Ah-hah. So perhaps we did something right.
   The woman adds these black bears won't hurt anyone. They are typically docile (although there occasionally is a rogue bear that has attacked) but nothing like their terrorizing counterparts -- the grizzlies that once roamed the state from one end to another until we killed them all, the last one apparently around 1922, according to
   Despite that grizzlies are California's state animal, their carnivorous ways collided directly with ranchers who wanted to protect livestock and pioneers who weren't exactly keen on letting the Ursus arctos horribilis make them a morning snack. Known as relentless predators (and that does not stop at humans), grizzlies can be identified by the large humps on their shoulders -- who will stop at nothing to kill.
   Ursus americanus californiensis -- California black bears -- rarely attack and according to some, if they do it's more out of hunger, then territory. (That didn't make me feel better, by the way.)
   By the time a third local told me that we were safe and not to worry, somehow I began to feel like a ridiculous city slicker.
   If one lives in the mountains, locals told me, then you must get use to the territory and that means living with bears -- and following the dos and don'ts -- such as making sure trash cans are bear-proofed and not leaving pet food outside or treats in cars where bears can tear their the tops off like a sardine can.
   The bear stories went on all week long.
   While I was in line at a coffee house,  one barista complained about the bears. "It's just terrible," she said to a customer. "The other night, my neighbor said trash was strewn all over her neighborhood."
   "Oh, my husband is so angry," said another store clerk to a customer, "They ate all his tomatoes!"
   No one, however, seemed a tad scared, except for me.
   Even the folks one door down from our rented condo asked if we heard the bear who was diving into the outdoor metal trash container at night in search of food. (We didn't).
   They weren't scared, they said, but added some idiot -- despite numerous reminders to close the lids with its bear proof lock -- left it wide open. Because of our mistakes, officials sometimes kill marauding bears who cause continual problems and lose a sense of boundaries with humans.
   While I watch TV news and all the intense drama swirling around about the bears coming down the mountains to Glendale and Monrovia taking dips in swimming pools, falling asleep in neighboring trees or having a yearning for meatballs, I can't help but think that we may need to take a lesson from our Mammoth Lakes cousins and two Monrovia girls and learn to live with them.
   In May, Valerie and Rachel Gasparini watched a bear -- they called him Larry -- slip into their pool and swim around for five minutes. They called their parents and videotaped him from the safety of their home.
   But they didn't call the police or any other officials.
   "It wasn't making a ruckus or it wasn't like destroying things in our backyard, so we didn't really feel the need to call anybody," Valerie explained to a Channel 5 News reporter.
   Despite my fears, I like the idea of living with them -- so much better than having to kill them -- something two kids and Mammoth folks seem to get.