ILLEGAL VENDING IN LOS ANGELES
There are many shortcomings in the way the LAPD tries to control illegal street vending. The most obvious of all, is that there is no deterrence built into the way the problem is handled -- no one is arrested, fined, or punished in any way that will deter the offenders from going back to illegal vending the next day.
The LAPD conducts occational sweeps requiring logistics to coordinate an entourage consisting of different agencies, similar to the military preparations of the allied forces before an invasion on D-Day.
Typically, the entourages consist of three officers of the DBS (Department of Building and Safety), seven LAPD officers, and a trash truck operator. Considering that these sweeps hardly put any dents in illegal vending, it seems not to be cost effective.
On one sweep, I was allowed to video record the events as long as no DBS or LAPD officers were in the shots (no explanations was given).
Following is a catechismal report on the sweep.
Q) (to DBS officer). Don't you need a search warrant to enter someone's property?
A) No, only the police need a warrant. We don't need one because it is a health issue.
Q) (to DBS officer). Aren't health issues handled by the health department?
A) Yes, but the DBS also handles these kind of health issues.
Q) (to DBS officer). You seem to be doing everything including the writing of citations. Why do you need police with you?
A) To protect us -- they carry guns, we don't.
Q) (to DBS officer). Why do you need seven LAPD officers? They just are standing around chatting.
A) How many police are here, isn't up to me.
Q) (to DBS officer). Why didn't you cite the guy in charge in the first and third house, but you did cite the guy in charge in the second house?
A) Because the guy in the second house was warned before. This is the second time we busted him, so he was cited.
Q) (to DBS officer). I noticed that there seemed to be safety violations at the houses, especially the second house which had obvious electrical and sanitation violations and was so filthy, that it appeared to me to be uninhabitable for the many occupants including a toddler. Why don't you cite the slumlords that own these houses?
A) We didn't come here for that today.
Q) (to DBS officer by LAPD officer) How often can you guys do these sweeps?
A) We can do them anytime you guys (Block Captains) want us to.
Q) (To LAPD officer). I noticed that when the DBS officer cited the second guy, the second guy didn't have any ID. What information did the DBS officer use?
A) He took the second guy's word for it and assumed he was telling the truth about his name and that he was the renter of the house.
Q) (To LAPD officer). I was told that if the suspects didn't have IDs, that you would arrest them. Why wasn't this guy arrested?
A) We just don't have the resources to arrest and book vendors. And besides, the prosecutor won't prosecute anyway.
Q) (To LAPD officer). So if an illegal vendor knows that if he doesn't carry an ID, he is guaranteed impunity. Is that right?
A) Well as you can see, they are sometimes issued a citation which requires them to go to court.
Q) (To LAPD officer). How do you know that the vendor is giving you his right name and address?
A) We don't. They are probably illegal aliens who don't have proper IDs.
Q) (To LAPD officer). What's the probability that they will show up in court?
A) I don't know, that's not my responsibility.
Q) (To LAPD officer). So what do you do if they don't show up in court?
A) I don't know, that's not my responsibility.
Q) (To LAPD officer). Why not have an INS officer with you?
A) The illegals would panic and scatter. We wouldn't have control.
(This absurd answer is typical LAPD spin)
Q) (To LAPD officer). Forget vendors for a moment. What do you do if you stop someone for a traffic infraction who doesn't have an ID?
A) We impound their car.
Q) (To LAPD officer). What if the car was just stolen?
A) We wouldn't know it if it had not yet been reported as stolen.
Q) (To LAPD officer). Let me get this straight. Suppose that I am a serial killer who just stole a car and did not have an ID with me, and you stopped me for speeding. If you impounded the stolen car I was driving, you would then simply let me go?
A) Yes, most of the time you would get a free pass.
Q) (To LAPD officer). Under what conditions would you arrest someone who did not have an ID?
A) Only if the suspect had an attitude problem or made verbal threats and I had the time.
Q) (To LAPD officer). So if I am a smart serial killer, I would know that I should never have an ID on my person and I should be polite to LAPD police officers?
Q) (To LAPD officer -- asked the same question as before). How will you or the DBS know if the second guy who was cited, shows up in court?
A) We don't. Once our work here is finished, it's out of our hands unless we are called as a witness.
When an ice cream vendor, was busted at Sylvan Elementary School, his supply of ice cream was thrown in the trash truck. And since he didn't have a license from the county health department, the cart was confiscated (if they have a county health license, then the ice cream is destroyed, but the cart is released to the vender who goes on his way).
Q) (To LAPD officer). You just confiscated the vendor's cart, but you didn't cite him. How will that deter him from illegally vending again?
A) The owner of the cart will be cited when he shows up to get his cart out of impound.
Q) (To LAPD officer). Do you really believe that the owner will show up to retrieve his cart?
A) I don't know
There seems to be lack of leadership and policy on how to handle Los Angeles law violators who do not carry IDs. I was shocked that murderous felons can get away with crime if they know enough not to carry IDs.
One should not forget that it is also illegal to vend goods other than food, thus it would seem that enforcement of illegal vending is not always a health issue. Since illegal vending takes place at times that do not coincide with the DBS non-overtime hours and non-working weekends, it is clear that the primary enforcement should lie directly with the LAPD.
The LAPD is not regarded by illegal vendors, as a threat. Illegal vendors know that they can go right back into business after being busted. Loss of equipment such as shopping carts, home made carts, or the boss's ice cream cart does not deter the individual vendor from going back into business the next day. The "friendly to illegal vendors" LAPD sends the message that it is virtually legal to be illegal.
In a letter to then Chief Parks I asked him to you explain why INS officers are not invited on these busts. Parks never answered.
Illegal vending will never be controlled unless the LAPD gets serious about enforcing the law. The bottom line is that to eliminate illegal vending, illegal vendors who do not have proper IDs will have to be arrested in a proactive way or arrested when a citizen complains.