There’s a new captain in town–Captain Jonathan Tom. On January 6, he took command of the West Los Angeles police division, which includes Pacific Palisades and Brentwood.
Many police officers come from a family that is long-rooted in the LAPD, but Tom is different. His great- great-grandfather immigrated from China in 1875 and worked as a laborer in Los Angeles.
“My grandfather owned the New Moon restaurant,” said Tom, whose cousin took over the name and opened three more New Moon eateries, keeping some of the recipes from the original establishment in downtown L.A.
Tom’s father, while in college, played the villain in several television shows, including “Star Trek,” “Dobie Gillis” and “The Wild Wild West,” before completing his CPA at USC and attending Southwestern Law School.
His father, Sebastian, worked as chief counsel for Congressman Augustus Hawkins (who served as the first African American from California in the U.S. Congress). Hawkins dedicated much of his career to enacting legislation concerning education, job training, and equality in the workplace.
Tom himself graduated from University High School, where he played setter on the volleyball team that beat Palisades High School in 1985 and 1987. He then studied real estate and finance at USC, graduating with a degree in business administration.
“I went to law school at Whittier College,” Tom told Circling the News, “and after my first year I got a job as a law clerk for the L.A. City Attorney’s office.”
Tom admits he wasn’t thrilled with his job, but while working there, one of the attorneys suggested that he speak to her husband, Terry Hara, who was a sergeant with LAPD.
Tom left law school and went into police training, mentored by Hara, who eventually became the deputy chief overseeing the West Bureau (which consists of West L.A., Hollywood, Olympic, Pacific and Wilshire).
“When I was at law school,” Tom recalled, “One of the instructors said, ‘Look around. Only half of you will graduate and of that, only half will practice.’ My parents weren’t thrilled with my decision [to leave school], but I had been paying for my courses.”
Tom knows he made the right decision because “My family has been here so long. It makes you love America when you see how people can move ahead. I felt like I should give back.”
He graduated from the police academy in 1996 and served his probation in the West L.A. Division. He has since worked assignments in three other geographic bureaus, everything from undercover to patrol captain at Rampart, where he received his captain promotion. Generally, Rampart is one of the higher crime areas in Los Angeles.
For example, in West L.A. in 2019, there were six shootings. “In Rampart, we might have six in a week,” Tom said.
Most recently he was commanding officer of the Critical Incident Review division. “We looked at all uses of force. Everything from grabbing wrists to custody deaths.” Before that he was captain in the South Traffic division.
Tom told CTN last Sunday that the West L.A. Division has had an increase in traffic fatalities.
“Because I’ve worked in a traffic division, I have a better understanding of the many factors, such as historical patterns and environmental issues that might contribute to the City’s ‘High Injury Network,’” he said. “We will look at the issues and, for example, might need to do a speed reduction in an area.”
Tom acknowledged that transients darting onto a “pitch black” street can also be a problem, specifically in this area. He said police might approach the homeless and ask them if they will wear a high visibility vest. He knows it won’t totally fix the problem, but that it might provide mitigation [fatalities and trauma to the drivers].
The captain attended the Homeless Count in Pacific Palisades and spoke to the those who were counting. “I’ve heard about the PPTFH,” he said, acknowledging the good work of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness. “The homeless is what gangs were to the police in the 1990s. What we’ve realized as the police department is that you can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”
Tom explained to CTN on Sunday that the concept of trying to get people access to services and housing came from a police officer, Joe Cirroto, in the Olympic Division.
Asked about the diseases that some of his officers are picking up from the homeless, Tom acknowledged the danger of the diseases and said, “Thank God, they want to provide those services. It’s not why they came on the job, but what they are doing is vital to the community.”
“The City is trying to bring in all of the community services to the homeless,” said Tom, who cited two programs: the Unified Homelessness Response Center, which combines LASHSA Homeless Engagement Teams, and CARE (Cleaning and Rapid Engagement), which sends out sanitation workers to clean up areas. LAPD is partnered with both.
CARE is driven by requests from City Councilman Mike Bonin in this area. LAPD can make the request, but the council office schedules it.
“There is no magic solution,” Tom said. “It requires a consistent approach, which is why the PPTFH is so successful.” The PPTFH is all volunteer, although the two social workers are funded through the nonprofit. “It tells me you can’t just throw money at the problem.”
He was asked about the fact that there’s only one patrol car working this area. He said that they try hard not to pull it out of the area, and that there are several problems in securing a second car. “I wish we had more police officers patrolling,” he said. “It’s a matter of deployment.”
According to Tom, in New York City there are 40,000 police officers; in L.A. there are 10,000.
He believes that even though there are fewer personnel, “We’re innovative, we’ve always had to be that much better.”
The Palisades area is low on crime, but is large geographically, which means one car has to cover more miles. Tom is seeing if this area could be split in two, meaning a car in each area and more rapid response times.
“In the meantime, I feel like we’re doing a good job with our resources,” Tom said.
The statistics bear him out. West L.A. was just ranked at the top for reduction of Part 1 crime. (That includes murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft and arson.)
“We had the biggest reduction on Part I compared to all the other divisions,” said Tom, who credited the former captains for this success.
There is a shift from “silo” interaction in West L.A. to more of a team effort. In the past, a department would only focus on a specific crime, rather than seeing how it might interlace with another.
For example, a person shoplifting(misdemeanor) would be charged differently than somebody caught in an “Estes Robbery” (felony), which is shoplifting and then using force to get away.
“We’re breaking ‘silos’ and working together instead of individually,” Tom said. “We talk about overall crime and get everyone’s input.”