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Jordan Downs in Watts marks three years without a homicide

The last time someone was killed inside the Jordan Downs Housing Development in Watts, a man chased 48-year-old Antonio McNeil and shot him in a drug dispute in broad daylight. Video cameras installed in the development captured the chase and subsequent killing.

That was three years ago today.

It's a different kind of anniversary in an area long known for gang violence: No one has been killed within the boundaries of the development since Aug. 28, 2011.

"It's really incredible to think there are kids who have been in Jordan Downs for the last three years and can say, 'I’ve never seen a homicide,' " Capt. Phil Tingirides told the city's housing authority commission Thursday at a meeting in Watts.

Tingirides, who has headed the Southeast LAPD station more than 7 years, said that from 2001 to 2011, 78 people were killed within the housing developments that include Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Jordan Downs.

Police credit the absence of killings to a combination of efforts, including those of community activists and gang interventionists. There are also security cameras in the developments to capture criminal activity. But in 2011, LAPD, along with funding from the housing authority, launched a program called the Community Safety Partnership, which places officers on the ground in the housing developments in Watts and in Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights.  Each development is staffed with about 11 officers who walk foot beats, patrol and connect with the community through various activities like youth sports. 

The other developments in the Community Safety Partnership have seen only four homicides in the past three years. In each case, an arrest was made within two weeks thanks to help from the community, Tingirides said. Police didn't see any retaliatory shootings.

Donny Joubert, a gang intervention worker and co-founder of the Watts gang task force, called the drop in homicides "huge."

"We knew we had to change and help change the community," he said.

Others, such as Kathy Wooten, a longtime Watts resident who works with the Jordan Downs community, was “speechless” upon hearing about the anniversary.

In 2008, Wooten lost two sons within two months. After her first son was shot, the killing triggered a series of retaliation shootings in Watts that left nearly a dozen dead and almost 20 wounded.

"Gang banging just isn't as interesting or important," she said. "A lot of people have died that was really important or cared about."

Tingirides said there’s enormous trauma that comes with having a friend of family member killed, even if the person was not involved.

“It creates the numbness; it creates a lot of the anger we see in future violence,” he said after the meeting.

Sgt. Emada Tingirides, who heads up the community safety partnership program, said that it's not only officers on the streets but community members taking ownership of their neighborhoods.

"We are working in a community that has historically distrusted the police," she told the commission.

On Thursday afternoon, 34-year-old Miguel Orozco swept the sidewalk outside his apartment in Jordan Downs while his children played in the grass with a hose.

A single father, he keeps his four children inside. "If I don’t go out, they don’t go out."

He said it’s been a "miracle" that no one’s been killed in the past three years, but violence is still happening.

He pointed to the fence near his apartment.  "It’s just past this fence."

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: An LAPD officer and members of the community get ready to play Bingo in the Jordan Downs gym in January. Credit: Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times

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