Body Found

Venice Current Staff

LOS ANGELES -Over the last two years, The Westside Current has chronicled the spiraling public safety crisis on Los Angeles’s Westside. In fact, a big part of the reason we started the publication was the silence of our paper of record, other major media outlets, and elected officials. 

Part of our objective was to correct the narrative with facts and the public record.

Consider: In January 2019 The Hollywood Reporter quoted CD 11 Councilman Mike Bonin as saying, “I can’t accept the idea that there is an inextricable link between crime and homelessness. It is wrong, it is not backed up by the data, and it leads to bad policy.” The Reporter ran this quote without so much as a follow-up question.

Angelenos know, based on experience, that Bonin’s statement was disingenuous at best, and mendacious at worst.

From a journalistic standpoint coverage of L.A.’s crime and homeless crises has amounted to negligence. Angelenos pay the price every day, whether housed or homeless.

Here is a sampling of stories the Current covered over the last two years (it represents but a fraction):

  • On Oct. 28, 2020,  71-year-old Jesus Valdivia died from injuries he sustained while his bicycle was being stolen by a person experiencing homelessness.

  • On December 25, 2020, 77-year-old Charlie Aragon was attacked and later died from injuries his family says he sustained after stepping in to help stop a neighbor from being harassed by a homeless individual. 

  • On February 27, 2021, 76-year-old John DeCindis passed away from injuries he sustained after being assaulted while walking his dog on Abbot Kinney Blvd. A few weeks after the attack, Pacific Patrol Officers arrested and charged a homeless man with the murder of DeCindis.

  •  On April 6, 2021, A 68-year-old 7,000-square-foot commercial building that was vacant was destroyed by a fire started by a homeless encampment. It took 116 firefighters 2 hours and 17 minutes to extinguish the flames in a primarily defensive operation. 

  • On April 21, 2021, a pediatrician working around the clock during the COVID crisis lost her home and her beloved dog in a house fire believed to be started by transients living temporarily in her neighborhood.

  • On June 26, 20121 Pacific officers arrested 38-year-old Michael McClain, of Venice, who was booked for the murder of 49- year old Michael Hall. LAPD officers were called to an encampment located in the area of Ocean Front Walk and Dudley Avenue. When officers arrived, they found Hall had suffered blunt force trauma to his head alleged to be caused by Mc Clain. Both the victim and suspect were persons experiencing homelessness, according to police.

  • On January 13, 2022 Brianna Kupfer, a 24-year-old UCLA graduate student from Pacific Palisades, was stabbed to death by a homeless man who entered the store she was working in.

  •   On Oct. 3, an 82-year-old man wheelchair bound man was stabbed multiple times by an unprovoked altercation at a fast food restaurant in Mar Vista.

Perhaps Traci Park said it best during her CD 11 candidate interview with the Westside Current, noting that “We are tired of being gaslighted by [Mike] Bonin. Public safety and crime are real issues in this district.”  

About the homeless crisis, Park said, “There is nothing compassionate or progressive or humane about leaving people sick and suffering in piles of garbage on the side of the road, and that is what we have done for the last decade. I want to be very clear that nothing I'm proposing is about criminalizing homelessness. It's about restoring a balance and putting some guardrails in place to protect our community.”

Such statements set Park in sharp contrast to her opponent in the race to replace Bonin, Erin Darling. This distinction is why we are taking the rare step of offering a direct opinion column in the days before the elections are over. We believe there is that much at stake. We also recognize that coverage of the race to date has unfortunately left a distinct misimpression in many people’s minds. We hope to correct some of those misconceptions – with copious references to the record.

Public Safety

 At a time when Los Angeles voters – and Americans in general – have turned hard against the defund movement, Darling’s webpage boasts endorsements by numerous organizations and elected officials who are on the record calling to defund or abolish law enforcement. They include the Jane Fonda PAC, Sunrise Movement, The Working Families Party, The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, L.A. Voice, Mar Vista Voice, and Run For Something.

A June 2020 tweet from the latter organization declares, “If you want to run for city council to defund the police and invest in Black communities, we will help you.” 

Darling’s individual anti-police endorsers include police abolitionists Nithya Raman, Eunisses Hernandez, and of course Mike Bonin himself.

According to a tweet by Darling campaign manager Tim Phan, Sunrise Movement hosted a progressive candidate forum two weeks ago in which Mr. Darling participated. His campaign also has accepted direct donations from individuals and organizations connected with the defund movement.

There’s also Carter Moon, a major player in the Darling campaign – who the Park campaign labeled as senior advisor. During a June 29, 2020 city council committee meeting Moon said, “It’s very obvious that we want much less police presence in our community and in the city. I don't know what more we can possibly do to make it painfully obvious that we want defunding and divestment from police immediately. We want the dismantling of the LAPD entirely. We are working towards abolition and every day you are just getting in our way. I will not stand for this any longer. I don't think most of the people I know will either. We will vote you out. we will come to your houses and protest until we get what we want. with that, I yield my time.”

Darling operative Moon ended his rant with, “F**k you!” to the City Council.

In addition to his many direct anti-police endorsements,  Darling also is recommended by the progressive organization Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)–whose primary stance is to abolish the police.  

The organization has had its eye on the LA Council race because it believes, “These [council seats] may not be races for state or national office, but they're still shockingly powerful positions. There are just 15 council members representing Los Angeles's 4 million residents, which means a single commissioner, on average, represents a population roughly half the size of Wyoming's. The mayor and city controller are citywide positions, representing a population larger than 23 U.S. states."

Numbers Don’t Lie, But Some Politicians Do 

On Monday CNN opined that crime is the “dark horse” of the 2022 midterm elections, with “71% of registered voters saying it was either extremely or very important to their vote.” Recent polls by the LA Times show the city in lockstep. A June report by the LA times shows that the largest share of L.A. voters polled wants to see the size of the LAPD increased.

That was true across racial and ethnic groups — though not among voters under 30, which were the only cohort that showed a preference for a reduction in police ranks.

Perhaps acknowledging the paucity of democratic support for defunding, and despite his strong base in the defund/abolish law enforcement movement itself,   Darling has tried to separate himself from the "defunders" by going on record calling for increased LAPD beat patrols. He has called for pulling active officers off desk duty and returning them to the streets. In doing so he is echoing the words of a candidate in the last CD 11 election: Mike Bonin.

In his 2018 reelection bid, Bonin used almost the exact same language. Like Darling, Bonin promised to bring more uniformed officers to CD 11. He even promised to get active officers off desk patrol.

He flip-flopped as soon as he was safely reelected. In 2020, Bonin voted to defund LAPD by $150 million dollars. As a result of his actions, the LAPD lost nearly 800 sworn officers. Particularly hard-hit by the Bonin-supported cuts were gang and narcotics enforcement, robbery, homicide, patrol, and other specialty details like animal cruelty, sexual assault, and the human trafficking task force.

The connection

Back to Bonin's quote. A month after the Venice Bridge Home, a temporary shelter for the homeless on Sunset Avenue opened its doors, violent crime in the immediate area increased by 88 percent. 

In contrast, after more than 200 encampments were removed from the Venice Boardwalk, violent crime went down by 80 percent.

Coincidence?

Empirical proof shows that getting more officers on the streets decreases crime. In 2021 the LAPD received $1.4 million for the pacific area, which includes much of the westside, but was specific to Venice, to establish foot beats on the oceanfront walk and a staff car in the Venice Bridge Home area. Captain Steven Embrich said the extra money allowed the department to hire officers to come in on their day off to supplement and work on crime issues. The work started in July of 2021. 

Embrich said, “Once officers were deployed, the areas saw immediate results in crime reductions.” 

Aggravated assaults, violent crime and robberies dropped as much as 37 percent in some areas.

Embrich also said that the department is working with and is still hopeful that alternatives such as the mayor's CIRCLE team initiative will reduce the number of calls that can be handled by the unarmed response for criminal-related issues.

Close Ties

Back to the defunding and abolishing the police. Along with endorsements and recommendations, Darling also has had close ties with City Council District 1 Councilmember-Elect Eunisses Hernandez and even donated $500 to her campaign. On Tuesday, Hernandez posted an extended Tweet about her support for Darling. She is a longtime police critic who worked on decarceration initiatives for the Drug Policy Alliance and La Defensa (a group she co-founded).

Hernandez beat centrist incumbent Gil Cedillo by running on a platform that prioritized shifting resources away from armed law enforcement and, in particular, closing the scandal-plagued Men's Central Jail.

Darling's former client is one of the reasons MCJ remains a stain on L.A.’s moral consciousness. As The Current reported last week, he represented a high-level Mexican Mafia figure who played a key role in the mob’s criminal activities in county jails and state and federal prisons. His client, Gerardo Tapia, was sentenced to 15 years for his role.

Will the real Erin Darling please stand up?

As for Erin Darling’s true stance on crime, Angela Mc Gregor reported in Behind the Post: Erin Darling isn't Bonin 2.0. He's Bonin Squared that, despite his public statements to the contrary, evidence suggests that he neither respects nor trusts law enforcement. Every case in the "Press" section of his website is about law enforcement misbehavior despite the fact that he consistently refers to himself as a “tenants’ rights attorney,” or alternatively a “civil rights lawyer.”  

Darling has also liked posts made on social media by his wife who has called for the complete abolition of the police, including an Instagram post asking, "Wondering What a Future Without Police Looks Like?" and others that make it clear (in her words) that she doesn't "support policing…and I don't support research that legitimizes police reforms".   

That site features a headline about the co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A. Melina Abdullah's 2021 lawsuit against the LAPD. She sued them because their response to a swatting call to her house was (according to her) "terrifying" and "designed to intimidate her". Darling represented her in that suit, and in another lawsuit against the LAPD three years earlier (which has been dismissed), in which Abdullah claimed that the police had "falsely imprisoned" her for flinging a powdery substance she claimed were human remains on Police Chief Charlie Beck.  

Darling stated in the LA Times coverage of the swatting incident, "This sure looks like retaliation for filing a lawsuit".  

Park Position

As for Park, she has stated that the community has a “massive public safety crisis on our hands, and I've earned the trust and support of the entire first responder community: paramedics, firefighters, police, park rangers, nurses, and lifeguards. They know that I am the partner they need at City Hall to make sure they have what they need to do their essential work of keeping all of us safe. I will never waver in my commitment to them, or in my obligation to keep residents, businesses, and visitors safe on the Westside.

“My opponent has spent his entire career maligning and suing our public safety partners, keeping guns in the hands of violent offenders, and working hard to keep criminals on the streets. He refers to the police as "special interests," and denies they were defunded in 2020. Never once has he committed to growing their ranks, and his entire campaign is being funded and managed by the radical fringe who want to defund and abolish our police.  Let me be very clear: this is a reckless and irresponsible approach that puts every single one of us in danger. The thought of putting Mr. Darling in charge of public safety is outright laughable.”