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Men in Blue: Working Art Walk to Make a Difference, Not a Living

By Jenni Simcoe
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010, at 02:47PM
LAPD Reserve Officers at Art Walk David Markland

LAPD Reserve officers Ali Bashar and Dave Vasquez from the Central Division stand by during Art Walk at the ready to respond to their next call.

Thousands of people walk the streets to get a glimpse of new artwork, and each other. Among those attending Art Walk are a notable group of police officers from the Central Division who are there for one reason—to keep the peace and provide safety to the public. And remarkably, the reserve officers—who join full-time officers to keep order in the streets—are all volunteering their time with no pay or benefits.

Ali Bashar takes the lead of the LAPD Reserve Officers in the Central Division. The 49-year old insurance agent by day, dons his uniform each month for Art Walk to head up the reserve officers assigned to the event. After a roll call at Central Division, Bashar, in his fourth year as a level three reserve officer, leads the 15 other reserve officers to the Historic Core. Bashar has been the lead reserve officer for a year and a half. “During Art Walk, our assignment is fluid. Some of the guys go down Main Street, some of us go down Spring and we move around during the night.”

Three of the reserve officers take to the streets on T3 chariots (three-wheel Segway-type vehicles). “We use those for crowd control, and we can get around quickly and respond to situations better with them,” said Bashar.

In addition to the reserve officers, Sergeant Loo, a full-time bicycle cop, two senior lead officers and four units in cruisers were on patrol at Art Walk. “The senior lead officer of the historic core, Steve Nichols and the command staff at Central Division are very supportive of us,” said Bashar.

On this month’s Art Walk, along with his partner, Dave Vasquez (a level one 20-year veteran reserve officer), Bashar took the charge of a recruit-in-waiting, who was along to see what happens on the second Thursday of the month.

Jim Martz, a 23-year-old rocket engineer, has started his application to get into the academy and hopes to be accepted within the next three months. “My dad was a cop, then a prosecutor, and now a judge. I really want to do the things he talked about when he was a cop. I want to help people and I want to get the training. Plus it’s exciting!”

Martz isn’t alone. There are currently 700 reserve officers in the LAPD according to Lieutenant Craig Herron, Officer In Charge of the Reserve Officer & Volunteer Section of the LAPD Recruitment & Employment Division. Four hundred of those reserve officers are sworn uniformed and armed officers and 300 non-sworn specialists who work as linguists, computer experts and support staff. Herron is working hard to meet a recruitment goal and increase the number of reserve officers to 2,000.

“When a reserve officer comes to your door, you are getting the same service of a full-time LAPD officer,” said Herron. Reserve officers currently save taxpayers $5 million dollars in man hours per year, according to Herron. The enrollment requirements for reserve officers are the same as any other officer that enters the academy. Reserve officers are required to work 16 hours a month and receive ongoing training as required.

All LAPD reserve officers receive the same training as their full-time counterparts, just on a different schedule. Full-time officers go through the academy in seven months, Monday through Friday and are paid to do so. Reserve officers, however, attend the academy with no pay, two nights a week and every other Saturday until they’ve completed the necessary course. Level one reserve officers attend more than 660 hours of training, level two officers receive more than 330 hours and level three officers 144 hours. The difference among the levels includes factors like weapons training, carrying a concealed weapon on duty versus off-duty and additional types of law enforcement training.

“By the end of training, a level one reserve officer has more hours than a full-time police officer,” said Herron.

When asked what his day job is, Bashar said, “I’m a life insurance agent.” He laughs. “People are more nervous when I tell them I am an insurance agent than when they find out I am a police officer. I guess they are afraid I will try to sell them a life insurance policy.”

“There are reserve officers from every occupation you can imagine,” said Herron. “We have people from other agencies in the reserves. Firemen, doctors.”

“Central Division has a great group of reserve officers led by Ali Bashar,” added Herron. “He works really hard, is community-minded and has an unmatched zeal for the job. The former captain at Central, Blake Chow, who has since been promoted Commander of special operations saw that zeal and appointed Officer Bashar.”

During any Art Walk, the officers respond to a variety of disturbances. This month’s Art Walk was no exception. The first call came an hour in when a loud explosion was heard. Immediately Bashar said that it wasn’t a firearm, but he suspected it was a firecracker. After investigating and conferring with a witness, Bashar and Vasquez confirmed that a man had thrown what was likely an M-80 in the street and ran.

Just a couple of hours in, a call came over the radio and Bashar and Vasquez were off from their post at Fifth and Main to the corner of Sixth and Spring to respond to a battery that a woman reported. By the time Bashar and Vasquez arrived, a group of officers that were stationed on Spring had arrived and were handcuffing the suspect. Bashar and Vasquez quickly joined the other officers in creating a buffer zone around the suspect to keep him separated from the many passersby that were in the area, until a cruiser appeared and the suspect was whisked off the sidewalk and into the cruiser.

“During the previous Art Walk there was a report of a man with a gun. It ended up that he didn’t have a gun, but when we ran them (the man and his friends) for warrants, two popped and they were arrested,” said Vasquez.

Not all infractions are as serious. At 7:30 pm Bashar observed three pedestrians, one an elderly man and two women, jaywalking across Main Street. “We try to go with the spirit of the law here, but if we have to go to the letter of the law, we will,” he said as the three crossed to the other side of the street. Because he didn’t see any immediate danger, Bashar said he chose not to cite the three pedestrians.

During the night Bashar and Vasquez don’t leave each other’s side. “We all have assigned partners because we don’t leave officers by themselves,” he said. Bashar’s partner Dave Vasquez works in information technology for his day job. “This fulfilled my interest in law enforcement. That they entrust me with the safety of the public is a great feeling. I think I’m doing my part, not just standing on the sidelines anymore,” said Vasquez. “I’ve gotten more out of it than I thought I would.”

“The reserves allow people who don’t want to start their career over to fulfill their childhood dreams,” adds Bashar. “A lot of guys watched Adam-12 and it was a big influence.” Shortly after Bashar mentions Adam-12 (a cop drama that ran from 1968 to 1975) another duo appear to meet up with Bashar and Vasquez.

The two reserve officers have come over from the Rampart Division to work the Art Walk. When asked why he signed up as a reserve officer, Officer John Matthews responded, “Well, I used to watch Adam-12 as a kid…” He trails off when everyone chuckles. Later when asked why he thinks recruits go through the grueling training, Lieutenant Herron also refers to the police drama, adding that he is sitting at his desk looking at an old lunchbox with Adam-12 on it. The show no doubt had an impact on many boys during its run.

Back to the Art Walk, things had been fairly quiet until a call late into the evening. “We got a call that there was a ‘415’ [disturbance] at the Alexandria,” said Bashar. He quickly responded to the second floor Mezzanine where two women had gotten into blows. “When we got there, the Alexandria security had broken up the fight and sprayed the women with OC spray (pepper spray).”

The women were in the bathroom lounge and though physically separated, were still verbally sparring when officers arrived. “Our reserve officers separated them and later both were arrested by full-time officers,” said Bashar.

“We all essentially perform the same job,” said Bashar. The only compensation they receive is free training, a uniform, equipment and a $50 a month stipend for dry-cleaning the uniform.

“It’s like you’re riding in the front seat and seeing life from a different angle,” Bashar said of his work as a reserve officer. “But for me, it’s really not a job. It’s an adventure.”

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