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California Softens Criminality—Skid Row Police Officer Deon Responds with "Ladies Night"

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 6, 2024 3:01 am

California Softens Criminality—Skid Row Police Officer Deon Responds with "Ladies Night"

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 6, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph shares this vivid story about how he helped the ladies who lived on LA's notorious Skid Row.

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Insured by NCUA. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. The Safer Cities Initiative, as implemented in Los Angeles' notorious Skid Row in September of 2006, was enacted as a part of their crime reduction effort. Skid Row is a 54-block area in downtown L.A. that has become synonymous with homelessness, crime, and drugs. Dion Joseph is a law enforcement consultant, author, and active senior lead officer in the downtown L.A. Skid Row community.

Let's take a listen. Okay, in 2005, the year before the initiative, and all my efforts and the efforts of the other officers there, we had 95 people die from non-homicidal deaths. We had 34 people in 2002 die from homicide. So three years into the effort, we look at 2009, and we had 63 people die in Skid Row, which is, I think, about a 33% reduction. And we only had five found dead in the streets.

You know why? Because we were able to enforce the tent laws from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Because if we could see somebody getting raped, we could save them. If we could see somebody overdosing, we could save them. The fire department could save them. And it worked.

It really worked. And, of course, we allowed them to sleep after 9 o'clock because there wasn't enough shelter. And it was just a really beautiful time. In homicides, we looked at just the following year of 2007, I believe. And I think in the whole division, six people were murdered. Guess how many people were murdered in Skid Row?

Three. I always tell people, look, I know what we do is not sexy. You want sexy, call the fire department. They're handsome guys.

They look good on calendars. I love the fire department. They're hardworking guys.

Station 9, shout out. Really great guys. But, hey, they do the feel good stuff. You know, our job is to respond to the true systemic failures of our government failing to deal with poverty, homelessness, crime in a common sense way on a consistent basis.

That's our job. And the mental health failures. Anyway, everything was going fine. Everything was going fantastic until about 2011. And that was the beginning of an end for crime control in the state of California. First, we had the governor come up with AB 109, which basically took individuals who were in prison off the backs of the states and put it on the already overburdened probation department. So they were so backed up that instead of supervising these individuals directly, they gave them ankle bracelets and told them to check in at a kiosk.

So what happens, these guys cut their ankle bracelets off. Now they're running around committing crime. Then comes 2014, Prop 47. They turned serious crimes into non-serious crimes. That made it difficult for us to keep criminals like burglary suspects, burglary from motor vehicle suspects, theft suspects to send them back and hold them accountable.

It made it very difficult for us to do it. And then comes 2016, I couldn't believe that the voters voted for it, seeing 13 years of crime reduction dissipate. Prop 57, which turned violent felonies into nonviolent felonies.

And I couldn't believe it. I mean, if someone took your loved one, a female loved one to a bar and put GHB in their drink and knocked them unconscious and took them to a room and raped them. The average person, if you asked them, they would tell you that's a violent crime. It's not a violent crime anymore.

If someone walked through my house right now and started firing an AK-47, but they missed me by the grace of God. You and I believe that's a violent crime. The average sane, rational person thinks that's a violent crime. Under the new law, it's nonviolent.

It's still a felony, but nonviolent. And what it did was it created a lever to release hundreds, tens of thousands of individuals into the street. And where did most of them come to? Skid Row. So now I was watching the justice system fail again. Imagine being in what's called a recovery zone called Skid Row, where there's one hundred and eight programs designed to help people with a myriad of issues. But there's a drug dealer standing right outside the door or inside the door. And some of these low, low income supportive housing units, they're worse than being on the street. And the reason why that is, is a lot of the people who got housed in Skid Row still owe drug debts to the local loan shark. And the loan shark finds out that or the drug dealer and the loan shark and drug dealer finds out they're still in there and says, hey, guess what? You got to sell these drugs for me in this hotel. Help me turn this place out.

Or if you won't do it, you have to get out of your own room and let me move in. So now you've got somebody who's housed, who's now back on the street because the criminal element is able to run wild and rampant. Once again, women are being victimized at a high rate. The tents are up. We can't take them down. The most tragic thing I ever saw was I was parked and these tents were up and it was about 12 noon and I didn't hear anything.

Everything was quiet. I went to the station, came to work the next day and I saw a report at 12 noon at 5th and San Pedro where I was parked. There was a woman who was savagely raped by three males. I was parked there. But even though that's a failure, I look back on the successes and the one thing they can't take away from me is the relationship that I built with the people. On top of housing them during the period where we had it safe, I created several programs off the cuffs.

One was called Ladies Night and Ladies Night was birthed in my heart in 1999. I was an undercover investigator in Skid Row and talk about seeing the real underbelly of Skid Row. I couldn't believe it. A, I couldn't believe they didn't recognize me as big as my arms were at the time.

But B, you know, it was just seeing drug program operators participating in the drug trade and allowing drug dealers into the facility and handing out drugs. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It really broke my heart when I saw these people I felt had no hope. So working undercover, I remember I had to go arrest sex workers. There were two sex workers I was looking for and I could never get them. I could never put on the right costume.

Right. So finally I thought I had the right one. I was dressed as a preacher. I have a little collar on, you know, I'm driving through the streets and I see the girl. I'm like, I'm going to get her this time. And I pull up next to her and say, hey, girl, I'm going to lay hands on you.

Right. And she looks at me and says, what do you need, big daddy? Lips split open, eyes swollen shut, skirt torn.

And she's walking looking for another customer. And I my heart just broke and I broke my cover. I said, look, it's me. I'm trying to get you, but I'm not going to arrest you.

Please tell me who did this to you. And you're listening to Dion Joseph sharing with you his story of his time spent on Skid Row. And for a time, boy, that death rate on Skid Row went down. And then came rules and regs and policies that made it just more difficult for someone like Dion.

And cops across this country make it harder for them to do their jobs and keep us safe, including the most vulnerable among us. When we come back, more of Dion Joseph's story here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.

But we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories and America like we do, please go to and click the donate button. Give a little. Give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming.

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He's a law enforcement consultant, author, and active senior lead officer in the downtown Los Angeles Skid Row community. Let's continue with Dion. You either arrest me or let me go. And I had to let her go.

And the same guy that violated her violated several other women in the Skid Row area. I couldn't do anything about it. I didn't have the resources.

But in 2008, we were having the same problems the ladies were telling me about in Skid Row. They felt I was the only officer they could talk to. So I said, you know what? Let me talk to you about your rights. Because what they were hearing from pimps, from activists, from their johns, is you go to the police, the police are going to arrest you because you're a drug addict. I'll tell the police you're a drug addict and they're going to arrest you too. Or I know you have a warrant. So I'll tell you, if you have a warrant, the police are going to arrest you.

None of these things were true. So I established some really great relationships with SRO. And they allowed me to use one of their community centers in the heart of Skid Row called the James M. Wood Center. And I created Ladies Night. And I rolled out the red carpet for these ladies. I think I set out about 50 chairs. But I only expected about 15 ladies.

Because usually people in Skid Row don't show up for things. But by the grace of God, about 175 homeless women came to the First Ladies Night. And I treated them just as if they lived in West L.A. I had a D.A.

there. I had a city councilwoman there. I had all these people there that normally they wouldn't expect to come talk to them. But the whole thing was, I don't care if you're on a pipe, on parole, a prostitute, or off swinging from a pole, or undocumented. If somebody hurts you, it is my job to serve you. And my brother and I also taught them some self-defense as well.

And not enough to kick my own butt, but just enough to add seconds to their life should they get assaulted in the street. And you should have seen the impact it had. I had made connections for life with those ladies sharing their stories of abuse. And I just sat there and listened all night long to these ladies. They felt listened to. They felt heard.

Now here was the wonderful gift from that. Two years later we had a taxi cab serial rapist driving through Skid Row picking up women and just doing things I won't even mention on this program to these women. And three of the women that he sexually assaulted went to Ladies Night, my First Ladies Night. Guess who they came to?

The police. And we put that guy away for the rest of his life. But the funny story, side note behind that, was when they were brought into court to testify, they wouldn't get on the stand. And they kept asking them, why you guys won't testify? We're not going to get on the stand unless the angel shows up. So I'm at home, sitting in my Superman drawers drinking on a strawberry smoothie, trying to enjoy my day off.

And I get a call from the DA's office, Joseph, they're not going to get on the stand if you don't come. So I'm like, but I'm in my Superman drawers. I'm trying to relax. I'm watching Maury. I want to know who the baby daddy is. And I said, you know what?

This is too important. So I suited up, went down there. And when I walked into the waiting room, all three of the victims collapsed into my arms and they went and testified and put that man away for the rest of his life, hopefully.

That was one incredible moment that no one could take away from me. And to this day, I still have a great connection with the women of Skid Row. During that same time, I work with the missions, the shelters. I had to learn a hard lesson about once again, once again about judgment and stereotypes. I always thought the missions were scams. I thought that they were there to basically corral the homeless, feed them soup kitchens and drive off in Mercedes Benz and not change a thing. I always felt the missions were a problem. They were the problem. They were the main source of the problem.

As long as the home was going there, you know, there was always going to be problems. And I'll never forget when I first became a senior lead officer, my captain says to me, Officer Joseph, you're doing great out there. You're making a lot of arrests, but that's not what I hired you to do.

You have to build relationships with the community. I was like, what do you mean? I want you to go meet with the director of the Union Rescue Mission.

His name is Andy Bales. And I was like, oh, God, the mission. So I went. I showed up.

I saw him. I shook his hand. I said, hey, I'm Officer Joseph. Captain told me to meet you. Here's my business card.

Nice talking to you. And as I'm walking away, he says, hey, your captain said I had you for about 30 minutes. Oh, man, I got crime to fight and everything. So he says, come walk with me.

So we're walking through the first level. I've been in there many times making arrests and I'm seeing people arrested before. Hey, that guy's smoking crack right there. I arrested that guy. He got a warrant for his arrest right there. I'm like, oh, I'm judging.

Right. But he must have sensed it because he was taking me to the second, third and fourth floor. Every floor got better. And by the time I got to the fifth floor, I saw individuals who I arrested. I arrested them. And when I arrested them a year or two years ago, I said to myself, not because I was mean spirited.

This person is going to die just based on the trajectory of of life that they were on. And these people were clean and sober and running their program. I'll never forget. One lady approached me says, you're a robo cop. I remember you. And I'm like, I don't remember you. Beautiful lady. And she goes, well, you probably don't remember me back then.

I had no teeth. Remember, I told you I wanted your family to catch AIDS and die. Oh, you said I forgave you for that a long time ago.

Right. And she says, Officer Joseph, I'm doing well here. I'm doing good. I hope you're proud of me. I said, baby, I am. She says, but let me tell you the truth. If you guys don't deal with these dope dealers and loan sharks out here.

I don't know how long we're going to last in here. That gave me pause. It made me realize that not only did they need the shelters and the programs, they also needed the police. And I made a whole shift, mindset shift, and I became a guardian for the drug programs, for the shelters. And I did everything I could to make sure I kept drug dealers and gang members. And what I noticed that while I was doing it, people were graduating from drug programs at a higher rate.

The missions were reporting less guns, less drugs. They let me come in there and watch videos and all the time and spy on drug dealers. It was just a wonderful thing.

God was blessing me. But one of those beautiful things they did was they allowed me to engage in a program called the Just Like You program. I created this program after being invited to the mission to talk to the kids. And I went there and the mistake I made was I patronized the kids. I walked in there and I did the old song and dance. Hey, I'm a police officer.

I'm your friend. Hey, little Billy, what do you want to be when you grow up? A football player. Hey, Johnny, what do you want to be when you grow up?

A fireman. No, I did the old song and dance. Right.

The old, you know, soft shoe. And then there was this 12 year old girl and she was looking eastbound down at the street and I was kind of insulted. The party was over here.

Right. I said, hey, lady, the party's over here. Young lady, what do you want to be when you grow up? And she looked at me, this beautiful chocolate black girl, and she says, I'm probably going to be like these people having sex on the sidewalk. If you don't get me and my family out of here. Shut me down. I got emotional. I couldn't continue. I walked out, let my partners handle the rest. I went to the station. I'm sitting at my desk praying to God. I said, what can I do?

What can I do? Who can I put in these front of these kids who are just like them? Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

The idea popped in my head that just like your program was born. And I found individuals who could be mentors to these kids whose they didn't grow up with a silver spoon in their mouth. They were in foster care. They were homeless. They were abused.

And somehow, some way they turned their life around. I brought a judge. I brought a lawyer. I brought a former actor. I brought a guy who I found in a trash bin covered in scabies. OK. And I put a poem in his jailhouse bag and he read the poem and somehow it inspired him to change his life.

And he went on to manage hotels in the area. I couldn't believe it. It's amazing. You know, that's why I can't stop.

You know, it's just like I'm always looking for the miracle. And a terrific job on the editing, producing and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Dion Joseph. He's a law enforcement consultant, author and active senior lead officer in the downtown Los Angeles area.

The notorious Skid Row community and doing what he can to make life better for the people there and safer. And I can just picture that ladies night and his skepticism running it because not your typical ladies night. But yet he treated these women as if they were women of high society, like they were from Beverly Hills, treating them with the same dignity and respect. They had rights. He wanted to let them know. And they had someone who cared to talk to. He was there to listen and serve. And what a beautiful thing.

And all of those women showed up and then ultimately were able to talk to him about their fears and the monsters who were preying on them. The story of Dion Joseph and the story of so many of the people who serve us in uniform, doing good, seeing things that most of us, well, don't want to see and couldn't handle if we did his story. Their story here on our American stories. This is where projects come to life. Our showrooms are designed to inspire with the latest products from top brands. Curated in an inviting hands on environment and a team of industry experts to support your project. We'll be there to make sure everything goes as planned from product selection to delivery coordination at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery. Your project is our priority.

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