Interim Senior Lead Officer for the LAPD Foothill Division introduced at Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Watch meeting

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The Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Watch held their monthly meeting on January 19th. From the outset of the proceedings, there was a sense of tension amongst the community members in attendance. It had been a week since the unexpected announcement of the reassignment of Senior Lead Officers Cesar Contreras and Gloria Caloca, and this first meeting of the Neighborhood Watch marked the introduction of the Interim Senior Lead Officer who will replace them. LAPD Foothill Division Captain Johnny Smith joined the proceedings to announce Officer Violet Potter was taking over for Officer Contreras as the SLO, and Officer Caloca would be staying on for the foreseeable future before moving on to different responsibilities.

Officer Contreras took part in the early portion of the meeting to greet Officer Potter and give his thoughts to the concerned members of the community about the sudden change that would be taking place. “This move was unexpected and there hasn’t been much time to transition,” said Officer Contreras. “I will do my best to pass as much vital information about the community to Officer Potter. This was not a move that I wanted, but we will roll with the punches.”

While the details remain unclear as to the specifics that led to the reassignment of SLO Contreras and upset community members are pointing fingers at District -7 Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez’s involvement, Captain Smith did his best to ease the concerns of the community. He told community members in attendance that not all changes will appear to be fair, but the LAPD Foothill Division remains vigilant in improving the quality of life of citizens of the Sunland-Tujunga area. “An SLO always walks a tightrope when it comes to handling affairs with their superiors and with the community, and sometimes these situations arise,” said Captain Smith. “I believe truth will always supersede power, and that’s how we will continue to work within this division and the community at large.”

The Interim SLO Violet Potter may be new to this position, but she does have familiarity with the Sunland-Tujunga area. She previously served as a beat officer in Tujunga for two years, and community members who spoke at the proceedings spoke highly of her work within the community during her time there. “It will take a while to get familiar with the area. I can’t solve every problem in two days, but I will do my best to continue the work of Officers Contreras and Caloca in keeping the neighborhood safe,” said Officer Potter when speaking of her new position.

One of the biggest areas of concern about this change expressed at the meeting is the volatility that it could represent. While Officer Potter is well experienced and trusted, she will wear an interim tag in this position and could promote out of the position at any time. Officer Contreras had served as the SLO of the LAPD Foothill Division for the last six years, a service time which breeds familiarity and comfort within the community. Several concerned citizens expressed that it could jeopardize the safety of the area by suddenly removing officers who know the neighborhood. Others called into question whether they would want to continue to engage with city government if Officers could be removed for speaking the truth to concerned citizens about issues that affect them directly. When asked if he was included in the decision to reassign his Senior Lead Officers, Captain Smith assured the attendees that this was not a move he was in favor of or included in the decision to make the change. “I have had requests before, but I always denied them because I felt Officer Contreras was a great fit,” said Smith. “My job is to service the community, and I am transparent. When I was instructed that the change was to be made, I did not have the opportunity to meet with the Police Chief, or Councilwoman Rodriguez”

During the meeting, Officer Caloca also provided year end statistics for crime rates within the Sunland-Tujunga area for 2021. Overall, the area saw a 9% decrease in crime, which is the opposite trend of the greater Los Angeles area where crime rates have risen. “Violent crimes have decreased, including 21 less reported aggravated assaults, which I am especially proud of,” said Officer Caloca. “There is still room for improvement especially along Foothill Boulevard and Sunland Park, but we are planning increased patrols due to the increased activity in that area.”

Other issues briefly mentioned in the proceedings were the increased presence of the homeless in the Sunland Park area, and the vandals tapping into power lines and stealing electricity in Tujunga. Mark Ross from the City Attorney’s office assigned to the LAPD Foothill area provided information to attendees on how to report these issues and what citizens could do to help the police curtail these issues going forward.

Before exiting the proceedings, Officer Contreras offered a final message to the community members that he worked with directly for the past six years. “I have enjoyed working and getting to know all of you in my time here in the Sunland-Tujunga community and I tried to serve you well,” said Contreras. “From Day one, I’ve always told you to demand more. Make sure you continue to be vocal to get what you want from your officers.”

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