Los Angeles: Picture in your mind, a loved one; your mother, father, son or daughter. Now picture that same loved one struggling with addiction and homelessness in one of the most crime ridden areas in the city of Los Angeles, Skid Row. Imagine them being unable to break the cycle of addiction because of constant temptations despite help in the form of a rescue mission or drug program, just steps away. This is the cruel reality for countless members of the skid row community, who have the desire to change their lives, but crumble under the weight of criminality. This is also the reason why the Los Angeles Police Department has a Safer Cities Initiative. Many in the Skid Row community and outside of it have asked and have been asked “Why SCI?” Some have said that it is for gentrification, others have tried to tout that this is some adversarial movement against the poor. These are complete falsehoods because the service providers of Skid Row are not going anywhere. We fully recognize the need for shelters, service and low income housing in the area. Of course we wish that other cities would open their minds and hearts to helping those in need, but we clearly understand that until that happens, Skid Row is where it is at. I personally have spoken up for SRO housing when there was talk of shutting the program down. This would have been disastrous for the hundreds of residents that live in the hotels, and many of the employees. Some of these employees are in the recovery community, and would have been out of a job if that would have occurred. We are not for shutting down the service community. What we are for is ridding this community of the lawlessness that sometimes makes its way into the service community thus hindering the efforts of the services, and the continued growth of those in recovery.
In other words, we are trying to create an environment conducive to real change in the lives of those with the will to change. Currently that task is very difficult for many who are routinely faced with the same temptations that brought them to the programs awaiting them while they are trying to better their lives. Our desire is that the LAPD be allowed to strengthen the influence of the service providers and those with a desire to make skid row a safe community. Those influences need to be stronger than that of the addicts that refuse to change, gang members and the drugs they peddle. We all know their sole desire is to keep their pockets lined with money as they keep their customers dependant on the products they sell. We reduce their influence by continuing to try to bring order to Skid Row. As a result, fewer people are dying at the hands of others, and by their own hands.
Now there are those that say that Skid Row is more dangerous because of the police presence. This is usually said in an effort to derail the SCI program, which is responsible for saving more lives since its inception. When I hear these things, it bothers me because to say that skid row was safer before SCI is to dishonor every victim of rape, overdose, murder, or violent assault that occurred before it was implemented. Those who would say that are either in a severe state of denial about the positive changes, or they are lying for a specific purpose or agenda. It says to me that one human life lost on skid row is not as important as their ideology. Yet in my opinion, every life spared whether dying from exposure while living on a sidewalk to an overdose, is a blessing. For the LAPD, it is not our job to protect an ideology over the individual human. It is our job to do the best we can to protect and preserve the lives of every individual we serve for the good of all. I admit that it is not always pretty, nor are we perfect as law enforcement officers (especially not me), yet whether you believe we care or not, our presence is necessary to keep skid row from returning to the state of lawlessness that reigned before SCI.
So the next time you ask or someone asks you, “Why SCI?” the answer is simple. It is to create an environment conducive to change so that those without hope today may find it tomorrow.
God Bless you all.
From Your Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph.