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Pershing Square task force implements more police patrols, regular park cleanups

By Hayley Fox
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at 11:25AM
Flickr via waltarrrrr

The Pershing Square Park Taskforce will address issues of health and public safety in the DTLA park.

In response to a number of community concerns including verbal abuse and open drug use, city councilman José Huizar has created the Pershing Square Park TaskForce, to address issues at the major Downtown Park.

“Pershing Square Park belongs to everyone – it should be inviting and welcoming to all,” said Huizar in a statement. “The park needs to be secure and clean and we need to ensure that all its visitors are safe, as well as following park rules and regulations and respecting the rights of others.”

According to Huizar's office, business-owners and residents have voiced numerous complaints about the park including the disruption of the weekly farmers markets and the presence of hypodermic needles, human waste and graffiti. They've also cited examples of verbal and physical abuse, including an incident last week when a private security guard was attacked at Pershing Square.

As a result, the task force's first pursuits include adding a "law enforcement presence" during the park's farmers market and increasing LAPD patrols, seven days a week during park hours.

LAPD area Capt. Horace Frank said it's not just one group creating these health and safety issues, but that it's a "segment of people who've chosen to destroy the park and engage in behavior that's totally decadent in nature." He said that many of these individuals are transient or people who identify themselves as from the Occupy L.A. movement.

Frank said that in addition to the daily patrols, there will be an undercover presence at the park including narcotics and vice officers to help crack down on drug activity in the area. To help address the homeless population at the park, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority will be visiting the park more often to offer services and referrals to individuals, according to Huizar's office.

But Brady Westwater, longtime Downtown resident and active community member, attributes much of the park's degradation to Occupy Protesters. Since being removed from the City Hall lawn last year, the group has been holding meetings at the park and often uses it as a gathering spot.

Earlier this month, hundreds of protesters including those from Occupy L.A. and Occupy Oakland, gathered in the Square for a "chalkupy" event where the participants drew and wrote political slogans in the park.

"This is a park that is supposed to be for all the people in the community to use and visit - not a place for one group of people to live and monopolize - forcing the public out of a public park," Westwater said in an email. "It's now a privatization of a formerly public space where one group is increasingly forcing all the other users out of the once public gathering space."

Westwater added that the park used to be "filled with drug dealing and other illegal activities to the point people would feel unsafe just walking across it - much less using it," and it was only in recent years it became a safe and enjoyable place for residents to go to art shows or outdoor concerts.

Now, he said it has again become an unsafe and unhealthy place to be.

Frank said the police effort is only one portion of the task force. There will be regular cleanups of the park grounds and the installation of 13 solar trash compactors, aimed at helping reduce vermin and improve public health. Because storing property overnight in the park is illegal, Frank said those items left at the end of the day will either be thrown out or put into storage.

UPDATED:Occupy organizer and frequent spokesperson Cheryl Aichele was unable to comment on this story today.

Blogdowntown has reached out for a comment from Occupy L.A. representatives but had not received a reply in time for our original deadline.

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