By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Los Angeles Police Department West Division Commanding Officer Captain Jonathan Tom united agencies and local jurisdictions on Tuesday morning, June 1, to address homelessness and fire mitigation following recent hillside fires in Pacific Palisades.
Tom told the Palisadian-Post he was inspired to collaborate with local partners after meeting a number of them at the base camp during the most recent Palisades fire, which started Friday, May 14, and was fully contained May 26.
“I met a lot of partners there that truthfully I didn’t realize had significant roles to play in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Tom said. “I found it useful for me to meet people, place names with faces, get cell phone numbers and email addresses. I wanted to do that for everyone, I wanted to pull everyone together. Having the opportunity at the base camp for the Palisades fire really allowed me to see what could be done.”
A number of entities, including Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, Los Angeles Fire Department, LAPD officers and units, California Highway Patrol, LA and California State Park Rangers, and more, met at Will Rogers State Beach to discuss the issue of homeless encampments and fire safety.
Tom explained that these are not jurisdictional issues—fires don’t know jurisdictional boundaries—so it is important to be able to work together.
“What we wanted to do is raise awareness of the issue and do a collaborative effort … keeping in mind that homelessness is not a crime, but certainly if anyone is engaged in dangerous activity, we have a responsibility to try to curtail that and mitigate the risk to the community,” Tom said.
The day was split into two components: First, bringing everybody together and having organizations share their roles in relation to fire mitigation and homeless enforcement or outreach, then performing task force operations.
Sharon Kilbride, co-president of PPTFH, said PPTFH volunteers were paired with officers, alongside park rangers and the LAPD Off-Road Motor Unit, to canvas different areas, including the Highlands, Castellammare, Temescal and El Medio Bluffs.
“It was great making new partners … sharing information, I think the community feels a lot safer that it was done,” Kilbride said to the Post. “That’s the first time we’ve had this type of collaboration—first of more coming.”
Tom said two individuals were cited that day, one for being in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone and another for having an open container of alcohol. Nine encampment clean-ups were carried out, and two individuals were offered services with the county’s Project Roomkey.
“It was a really successful day, not just in terms of numbers, we wanted to show the community that we care about them, that we take the danger seriously,” Tom said. “My intention is that this does not become just a show-and-tell for the community and the press … what we want to do is show the community that we have a commitment to this and it’s not just a one time thing.”
He explained there have been issues with deployment, and subsequent defunding and reduced staffing levels as a result have affected LAPD’s ability to staff the beach detail on a regular basis. He has made the commitment through the summer to have four officers assigned to that detail, and a permanent senior lead officer into the position “sooner rather than later.”
“I don’t feel like I can wait, we’ve been waiting for the budget to open up and I think I’m just going to have to make that decision and move someone there on a permanent basis,” Tom said to the Post.
Tom said he hopes to bring everybody together physically and perform local task force operations at least twice per year.
“It will just depend on the ability of the other agencies to participate,” Tom said, “but I will always be pushing for resources to go where they’re needed.”
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