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.