By Jennifer Lam / Boyle Heights Beat
After 24 years with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Captain Martín Baeza has returned to the Hollenbeck division, where he first started his career.
Captain Baeza took over as commanding officer in late June when the division’s previous captain, Anita Ortega, left for a new position in the department’s recruitment and employment division.
Baeza joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1989. He has worked in several divisions, including Hollenbeck, North Hollywood and Northeast, as well as on different assignments ranging from patrol to detective trainee. Baeza became a captain three years ago.
Born in Merida, Yucatán, México, Baeza immigrated with his family at the age of two and grew up in the Northeast and Rampart areas of Los Angeles. He says he knew since he was eight years old that he wanted to be a police officer.
His personal experiences as a Mexican immigrant and as a youth in Los Angeles make him feel well connected to the community, he says.
Baeza says he hopes to build on the momentum that Ortega started and continue her successes in crime reduction, community engagement and youth programs.
Engaging with the community is one of Baeza’s main goals, which he hopes will help minimize residents’ risk of becoming victims of crimes. One of the biggest issues facing the neighborhood today is property crime, he says.
In the second week of July, Boyle Heights was at the top of the list of 10 neighborhoods with high property crime rates. There were 38 reported cases of property crime, up from a weekly average of 27.5.
The biggest problems are stolen vehicles or thefts from vehicles, he says. “A lot of those thefts can be easily avoided [by] not leaving your property in the car, not leaving it visible, accessible,” he says.
Baeza sat down with Boyle Heights Beat reporter Jennifer Lam to discuss other issues and his hopes for the neighborhood. The interview has been edited for clarity and space.
BHB: Statistics have shown that violent and gang- related crime rates have decreased across Los Angeles. What do you believe is the main reason, and how do you go about ensuring this trend continues?
MB: The way that I ensure that we continue these successes is to work with the community, to engage with them — for us to work as partners so that the community understands that they have a responsibility to their neighbors. That’s my vision.
BHB: What are some of the struggles you think you will face as captain?
MB: The biggest challenge I face is how do I engage the community to understand that they are also responsible for making their neighborhood safe and how it’s not just a police problem. I see that as a challenge.
BHB: How important is community policing?
MB: The three tenants of community policing are very simple: partnerships, problem solving and prevention programs. And that really is a fundamental base, but we have to make sure we’re smart about it. For me, the biggest thing is the community. I want to reach and I want to hear my critics. That’s community policing. It’s not just reaching out to the people that support us about the issues. I really do believe in collaborations and partnerships.
BHB: Residents of Boyle Heights haven’t always had positive relationships with the police. How do you promote and maintain a good relationship with the community?
MB: One of the things is community engagement. And I think that it is very important that we build a relationship with the community and continue to build a relationship. I think we have a very positive relationship with certain segments of Boyle Heights. My challenge is to reach out to the folks who don’t feel that way about the police department. The philosophy of the police department now is, “Let’s work together’, which is much different from the one [when] I came on 24 years ago.
BHB: How do you change the mentality of those who are fearful [of the police]?
MB: It’s important to me that everything that the officers do is based on a moral compass, that they understand the mission, the vision, the values of the police department. So, when we have to take some tactical action, cite you for a traffic violation, problem solve with the community, think of how we handle a situation that is unfolding rapidly, that everything we do is based on [those] values.
BHB: How does being an immigrant change your perspective in commanding law enforcement in a heavily Latino community?
MB: I can relate, is what I can say — speaking the language, understanding the culture, understanding the issue. English is my second language, and understanding the culture and really the difficulties of the community, having lived through them and seeing my parents struggle, I can say that I can relate to the community.
As a police officer, I try to be very objective and neutral. That’s what I want to bring. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that I’ve lived through it. My view is my experiences of being an immigrant myself.