Smart Policing in Los Angeles
Authors & Project Staff
    Dr. Craig D. Uchida,
    et al.
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Problem-oriented policing is one of the major foundations for the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Policing Initiative (SPI). In essence, SPI encompasses the SARA model (Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment), but with more rigor and specific outcome measures. Lessons learned from research are also included within SPI, particularly the use of findings from studies in Boston, Indianapolis, Jersey City and other cities. Those lessons indicated that when police intervene in the lives of specific offenders and when they focus on hot spot locations they saw significant reductions in crime.

The Los Angeles Police Department has been involved in SPI for two years and calls its project Operation LASER — Los Angeles’ Strategic Extraction and Restoration. The project focuses on reducing gang and gun violence by surgically extracting chronic violent offenders from specific locations and then restoring neighborhoods to peaceful settings.

Operation LASER

Operation LASER uses computer mapping and spatial analytics, social network analysis, and definitions of hotspots, to select targets (gangs and gang members) and areas for extraction of suspects and offenders involved in gun and gang-related crimes.

The extraction is “non-invasive” and as a result there will be a faster recuperation period where we can restore the neighborhood to a state of normalcy. In addition to police intervention, the police will work with specific members of the community, businesses, and schools.

This operation is based on criminological theory and medical analogies. The basic premise is to target violent chronic offenders and gang members who commit crimes in specific areas using laser-like surgery.

Laser surgery, where a trained medical doctor uses modern technology to remove tumors, improve eyesight, etc. is analogous to the police interventions that are underway. Rather than use task forces or saturation patrols, patrol officers and Special Problem Units (SPU) are conducting foot beats, knock and talks, and other tactics to apprehend chronic violent offenders and gang members. By carefully identifying offenders, determining where they live, and when they are involved in criminal activity police can remove them from an area with minimal invasiveness and minimal harm to the people and areas around them.

Similarly chronic crime locations have been identified and examined. While interventions are still in progress, we ask: Why is the location conducive to criminal behavior? How do we change the physical aspects of the location? It may be appropriate to improve specific areas and locations that are chronic places where crime occurs. This may mean improved lighting, elimination of graffiti, neighborhood clean-ups etc.

Operation LASER was used in Newton Division, an area station responsible for about 150,000 people in a 9 square mile area. Newton has about 52 gangs within its boundaries and has experienced shootings, robberies, and aggravated assaults for a long time.

The primary strategy for LASER included:

• Extract offenders from specific neighborhoods and areas
• Restore peace to neighborhoods and communities
• Remove the anonymity of gun offenders
• Remove the anonymity of gang members
• Reduce gun and gang-related crime in Newton Division