As a reporter, I like finding street stories few people know about. That’s the case with the General Services Police Department. They train just like LAPD officers, but officers with the GSPD patrol parks, libraries, and other public places and they encounter some raw realities of sexual acts and drug use. I hung out with officers Victor Carrasco and Miguel Maria recently. I wish the editors had chosen to run the story in a Sunday edition, rather than burn it in the middle of a holiday week. Oh well. Here’s a part of the story (Daily News, December, 2011):
A bright light flashed under a row of low-lying tree branches one recent evening in the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, revealing scattered remains of secret vices and fleeting pleasures.
Beach towels. Used condoms. Rusted syringes. Empty beer cans.
The debris is a reminder that anyone will do anything, anywhere, as long as they believe they won’t get caught.
“After 10:30, we’ll see men sitting alone in parked cars,” said Victor Carrasco, a police officer with Los Angeles’ General Services who patrols Sepulveda Dam at night.
“We get a lot of lewd conduct.”
After dark, the grounds of San Fernando Valley’s public parks hide the petty, yet potentially harmful crimes. Smokers who flick live cigarettes into dry chaparral. Alcoholics who park in the shadows of a lot for a few last swigs from a hip flask before driving home. Drug addicts who buy and dealers who sell.
Carrasco and his partner Miguel Maria seek these crimes out. As police officers with the city’s Office of Public Safety, Department of General Services, the two patrol the Valley’s 125 parks, 21 libraries, and 25 city lots nightly. Their job is to remind the well-to-do businessmen, the thrill-seeking housewives, the chronic homeless or the runaway teens that whatever is done in secret in the dark, especially on public property, will eventually come to light.
“I have a saying,” said Carrasco, whose more than 20-year career with the city includes eight years as a ranger at Griffith Park.
“I protect the parks from the people and I protect the people from the parks.”
But that is a challenge on many levels, including geographical. The San Fernando Valley stretches for 260 square miles. And the parks aren’t small.
On any given night, the officers will put 150 miles on their patrol vehicle as they drive through as many parks as they can during a 10-hour shift.
It’s a win-some, lose-some kind of job, both officers acknowledge.