More cops in downtown L.A.? Food court shooting rekindles policing debate

Residents and business owners called for more police patrols after a deadly shooting at a popular tourist spot

By Adam Elmahrek
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police are continuing to search for the gunman who fatally shot a man outside Grand Central Market over the weekend, sparking panic among patrons in a chaotic scene caught on video at the popular food hall downtown.

Multiple videos posted on social media showed people running for the market's exits; at least one shows an individual on the ground near an entrance. The shooting was reported shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday, police said.

A private security guard points to the street site near Grand Central Market on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Los Angeles. A man was fatally shot outside the popular food hall on Saturday.
A private security guard points to the street site near Grand Central Market on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Los Angeles. A man was fatally shot outside the popular food hall on Saturday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The well-known dining hall has been a downtown landmark for years, attracting thousands of customers a day to a variety of restaurants featuring dishes from around the world.

The shooting has sparked debate over policing downtown.

Nick Previsich, a downtown resident for the past 11 years, said in an interview with The Times that the shooting confirmed his view that an "anything goes" attitude had taken hold among some people he described as "outsiders" to L.A.'s downtown scene.

"They felt safe enough to engage in deadly conflict with hundreds of people right inside" Grand Central Market, Previsich said.

At a city budget hearing Friday, Previsich and a downtown restaurant owner called on the city to assign more mental health professionals to assist drug-addicted and homeless people, but also for additional police foot and bicycle patrols, arguing that they would be an effective deterrent against crime.

"We need a response, and we need it now," Previsich said.

[RELATED: Police foot patrols: 3 pluses and 3 pitfalls]

L.A. City Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes downtown, said in a statement that he believes foot and bicycle police patrols are a "key strategy" to combatting street violence and that he has committed $2.5 million for police overtime to enable them.

"I'll work closely with LAPD command to get officers on the ground to stop these crimes before they happen," De León said.

But calls for more police walking the streets came amid pleas by other city residents and activists to steer city resources away from police, and toward more parks, youth, mental health and other community services for underserved Black and Latino neighborhoods. They say the police department has been egregiously overfunded compared to other services.

"What's going to keep the community safe is investment in the communities, not LAPD and not in the police state," said Ni, an activist with Stop LAPD Spying! who only gave her first name.

The shooting at Grand Central Market was striking because it happened in broad daylight amid a large crowd of people.

It also occurred the same day that an armed white supremacist opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., shooting 13 people and leaving 11 people dead. Most of the victims were Black. On Sunday, a shooting at a south Orange County church left one person dead and five people critically injured, police said.

The shootings renewed calls for tighter gun control laws.

"While we are still learning more about the [ Laguna Woods and Grand Central Market] shootings, one thing is certain. It is that we need stricter gun laws and we need them now," Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D- Los Angeles) said in a news release about the events.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said more foot patrols in downtown L.A. are not the answer, because police primarily respond to violent crimes only after they occur. She said the way to end street violence and the problems afflicting downtown is "flooding our communities with resources," including housing for the many homeless people encamped on city streets.

"We have to recognize that if someone can be murdered in broad daylight in a bustling place like Grand Central Market, and not be caught, that policing is not effective," Abdullah said.

Previsich acknowledged that the nationwide problem of gun violence was more complicated than just adding more police, but said that police foot patrols in downtown L.A. would increase trust and act as a visible deterrent.

It's a lot harder to commit a crime in the presence of an officer, and it's harder for residents to hate officers when they've met and shaken hands, he said.

"We need to set the tone a little bit differently for downtown L.A.," Previsich said.

Pete Brown, spokesman for De León, said the councilman believes police foot patrols are only part of a larger solution, and that De León has supported increasing resources for mental health and other services.

"One of the things [De León] has been adamant about is officers getting out of the role of being social workers and dealing with those especially with mental illness," Brown said. "It's not mutually exclusive. It's not an either-or."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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