THE MAGAZINE

California Cruisin'

By Teresa Anderson
 
Business Improvement
 
The Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District (BID) made 2,500 arrests in 1997, its first year of operation. Last year, that number was 1,800. People involved with the BID say that its efforts have helped to reduce crime in the area, which is down 10 percent since last year, a more significant decline than in other parts of the city.
 
So when The RAND Corporation issued a report earlier this year concluding that BIDs in the Los Angeles area have led to significant reductions in robbery rates, Bill Farrar was not surprised. Farrar is senior vice president of operations and business development for Andrews International, which oversees both the Hollywood BID and a second BID in the area. He says that the organization’s philosophy is the reason for its success. Instead of adopting a law enforcement mentality, the BID officers strive to provide services that the police cannot. “We aren’t here to replace the police,” says Farrar. “We are here to problem solve.”
 
A BID is a public-private partnership in which property owners pay additional taxes for extra services such as street cleaning, landscaping, and security. In Los Angeles, the security aspect, which is provided by a third party, accounts for 50 to 60 percent of the BIDs’ budget. The BID benefits area businesses because they receive supplementary services and it helps the city because it does not have to find a way to fund and provide the services the BID handles. For the end us­ers, there’s a savings as well. For example, Andrews can provide security for one-third of the cost of police.
 
As noted, Andrews oversees two Los Angeles BIDs. The Hollywood Entertainment BID includes approximately 520 businesses and spans about 18 blocks. The second, the Sunset/Vine BID, was established in 2007 and covers an asymmetrical area of about 250 businesses. The BIDs are adjacent and together cover about seven square miles.
The headquarters for both BIDs is located in the Hollywood and Highland retail center, an upscale mall that includes shops, restaurants, nightclubs, a bowling alley, and the renowned Kodak Theatre, which hosts the Academy Awards and other high-profile events.
 
The BIDs’ 30 officers are mostly retired police; they operate in teams of 15 persons. Officers conduct foot patrols to establish a rapport with the community. The officers do not have police powers so, if they encounter lawbreaking, they make private person’s arrests. However, under an agreement with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), they can bring perpetrators to the BID offices and hold them there until they can be transferred to the nearest police station. Without this agreement, officers would be required to call the police and wait for them wherever the suspect was apprehended. Every arrest is put into a computer tracking system, and the results are shared with police.
 
The BIDs’ relationship with the LAPD is crucial. The two groups work closely together and the BID office also doubles as an LAPD substation.
 
An example of the level of cooperation is the weekly LAPD crime-control meeting. The meeting is designed to allow police captains to discuss crime trends and possible solutions. The BIDs are part of the meeting and offer reports each week.
Similarly, the BIDs are included in ma­jor police operations occurring in the area. For example, during protests, a BID representative is present at the police command center and is able to relay information, such as the number of protesters and any possible violence, to property owners who are members of the BIDs.
 
The BIDs also interface with private security personnel employed directly by companies in the district. For example, if a crime occurs, business owners call the BID directly instead of the LAPD. For these businesses, the BID provides a command presence and helps to deescalate volatile situations. This service is designed to improve security and save the LAPD from having to handle minor calls for service.
 
Mike Harkins, executive security director for Hollywood and Highland, uses the BID to deal with security challenges unique to his operation. “Our open-air facility has four nightclubs,” notes Har­kins. “This can present a challenge at closing time when patrons exit the bars and are still on our property.”
 
If a fight breaks out, for example, Har­kins can contact the BID via radio through his dispatch center. This resource works well and allows the BID to respond quickly, according to Harkin. For example, after the recent death of Michael Jackson, both the international media and distraught fans gathered near Jackson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star is located outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre within the Hollywood Entertainment BID. Minor skirmishes broke out among visitors, but BID officers responded quickly and peacefully resolved the altercations by separating the participants and then maintaining a presence to prevent further conflicts.
 
“Obviously the LAPD would have responded to the incident,” says Harkin. “But they are likely dealing with far more serious crimes. In these cases, the use of BID personnel pays dividends.”
 
Though liaising with police and businesses is important, Farrar considers community outreach the cornerstone of BID operations. The BIDs work with social agencies such as those that advocate for the homeless or address drug abuse or prostitution issues. The priority is to improve quality of life and this doesn’t necessarily translate into arrests. “We would rather talk someone into rehab than arrest them,” says Farrar.
 
This outreach is undertaken with the full support and consultation of the LAPD, the city attorney’s office, and city public works and health agencies. The coordinated effort makes a difference in the outcome, says Harkins.
 
Harkins meets with BID officers, other private security leaders, and advocacy groups each month to devise long-range plans for addressing community problems. For example, at a July meeting, participants discussed plans for handling traffic and crowds for the Independence Day holiday. Other items on the agenda included the activity of a prolific graffiti artist and a recent rash of vehicle burglaries in a local parking structure.
 
The cooperative effort also means that advocacy groups are on call to deal with problems on a case-by-case basis. “We can call the groups serving the homeless population, and they will come out and consult with an individual who is sleeping on the street,” says Harkins.
 
The culmination of the BIDs’ dedication to community service is Connect Day. The event, hosted by a private business, brings service providers together in one location. A homeless person can come that day and be connected with groups that provide medical resources, social services, and mental health expertise.
 
The police are on hand to help clear up warrants that might prevent people from getting help. The Department of Motor Vehicles is available to address issues such as lapsed licenses. Charity organizations provide hotel vouchers and resources for getting food.
 
“Our goal is to bring people in and help them make contact,” says Farrar. “To get them into the various systems so they can get help.”
 
The Connect Day puts a human face on the problems that, left unchecked, can lead to crime and violence. By addressing the issues at the root of criminal behavior, the BIDs hope to prevent such behavior from ever occurring. “It’s sobering to see how many people show up with families,” says Farrar. “These people want jobs, a place to live. We try to help with that.”
 

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