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To Protect and Serve…The Homeless

Los Angeles Police Officer Deon Joseph goes above and beyond the call of duty to help desperate people on Skid Row. Read Transcript


NARRATOR: Like many cities, Los Angeles

has a long history of tension between minorities and police.

LAPD officer Deon Joseph says the road

to reconciliation starts with prayer.

DEON JOSEPH: The way that I police

with these people, the way I treat them,

it pleases my Father in heaven, because I'm fare to them.

I don't care if you're black, white.

I don't care if you're Muslim, Jew, gay, straight.

I don't care who you are, if you need justice

I'm going to be fair to you, and I'll work hard for you.

NARRATOR: Under his leadership crime on Skid

Row has dropped 18%.

He works hard to bring people together from all backgrounds.

Today he shares how the Lord leads

him to change Skid Row by sharing faith, bringing

justice, and building genuine relationships with those

in need.

Hey, I'm working on a program--

It's an honor to have on the show, Senior lead LAPD officer,

Deon Joseph, and it's-- it is an honor to have you.

Thank you for having me.

I appreciate it.

Appreciate all you're doing.

You didn't want Skid row.

No.

No, sir I didn't.

You were like, what am I getting into?

What changed your heart?

How did you turn to love it?

Just being there for a few months,

actually working the streets of Skid Row, kind

of against my will, after a while

you had people coming up to me going,

there's something about you.

There's something in your eyes.

You're going to really try to help me today.

And they were right.

I couldn't turn them away.

I would be at end of watch, over time, and like, OK,

I'm going to stop and help you.

And that comes from my upbringing with my parents.

My mother and father were engaged in outreach

their entire 47 year marriage by way of helping

raise 41 foster children.

GORDON ROBERTSON: Wow.

In addition to me, my siblings, and my nephews and nieces.

And they did it with a non patronizing but unconditional

form of love.

And those kids really benefited from it,

whether it was two weeks or two years that they were with us.

And then my dad, he had a construction company--

this is a man who came from the Jim Crow South, real hatred--

and made something of himself, but he didn't

forget where he came from.

And he would hire individuals who had criminal records, who

made mistakes, or who couldn't get jobs anywhere else because

of racism, and he would give them a chance.

And he never called them his employees,

he always called them his friends.

And then lastly, my mother would feed

the homeless a responsible way for 10 years up

until she passed away.

And the dedication she had was such

that she missed birthday parties.

She was late to my wedding because she

had to feed the homeless.

And so I realized after a while I was home.

I was home.

Yeah, It's unusual to hear somebody

say Skid Row became a home.

Yep.

Yep.

Because it's a place for the homeless.

Yeah.

And you pioneered something new where you--

I'm trying to imagine myself.

What would I do in facing those situations?

And I'm afraid I'd give into hopelessness.

That, what can you possibly do here?

But you didn't.

DEON JOSEPH: Nope.

GORDON ROBERTSON: And what was the idea

that you had to change things?

Well I wanted to approach things from a grassroots level.

I believe in something I call grassroots policing.

It's-- the programs that my department have are great

and wonderful, but when I passed out information

to the community with the department badge on, since they

were indoctrinated to fear and hate law enforcement officer,

a lot of times they'd look at it and go, eh.

But they love me.

So when I started passing out the same information with,

from officer Deon Joseph.

And then put my personal thoughts

and how I feel about serving them,

and how much I care about them, that's

when they begin to take those things into consideration.

And really has started to change the relationshp-- relational

dynamic with the community to where-- it went from being,

oh, there's that cop who's going to arrest us to, oh, that's

family right there.

That's what changed, coming from a grassroots perspective.

That's unusual to hear.

That you're dealing with people at Skid Row.

And it's amazing, you've reduced the crime rate.

Do you have any success stories?

People that found homes and got their lives back?

I have a whole lot of stories, but we'd be here all day.

But I'll tell you this--

You got a book of stories.

I'll plug the book, where It's, "Diary of a Skid Row Cop."

So if you want to have all those stories you can have them.

DEON JOSEPH: Yeah.

But--

I was able to house about 150 homeless people in 10 years.

Now, that's nothing compared to the weight of what

we're dealing with in Skid Row.

But that was 150 who actually wanted

to change when we, at the time, created an environment where

they could actually think towards change.

Right now, and back then, the environment

was so bad that the temptation to fail was too great.

So those 150 people were people who desired change.

And I just was glad to be the mechanism

to help get them to another level in their lives.

GORDON ROBERTSON: How important is it to get somebody

to believe they can change?

Because I imagine in that situation

there's a lot of forces that say, there's no hope for you.

This is where my upbringing comes in.

A lot of the foster kids we brought in when I was a child,

they didn't believe there was any hope.

They believed they were worthless.

They were abused.

I recognize that.

When I'm talking to a lot of people in Skid Row,

they're scarred so deep.

So deep.

And they want somebody who's going to be a real and genuine.

Yeah, you can come once a month and throw food and clothes

at me.

That's nice.

And then I'll take my halo off and continue to destroy myself.

But for somebody to come, in my position,

and walk with you every day, to shake your hand

or give you a hug.

I don't care if you're covered and scabies,

I'll hug you and tell you how much I love you,

if that's what you need.

That's the difference maker right there.

It's being human.

It's figuratively putting down your uniform to be human,

so these people can begin to see your uniform

as a beacon of hope.

What do you think about the current situation in America

today?

Are you seeing an increase of hostility on the street?

Well, absolutely in many parts of L.A. Thankfully

in Skid Row I built such a relationship that nothing

anybody can say can really tear it down.

Like I said, I'm family.

But we have some new faces that are

coming to Skid Row due to recession and other issues,

and they don't know me.

So when they see me it's-- I was just driving my car the other

day and some guy says, how many bodies you got officer?

Which means, how many people have I killed?

I haven't killed anyone in 20 years.

So we are seeing that broad brush painting

of police officers having an impact on the many members

of the community, and that's why it's imperative for us

to be even more proactive in going out there and having

those non-enforcement contact with people

to really turn the tide.

We're up against a lot right now,

but I believe if you keep loving, keep fighting,

you can turn the tide.

How can churches help the local police?

How churches-- particularly the african-american church--

sit down and talk to us.

Sit down.

Come sit down and talk to us.

I always tell people, come for a Skid Row tour with me.

Give me about three hours of your time,

and I'll change your life.

I'll change your life.

And you'll hear from my mouth-- not from something

you saw on social media.

Not from something you heard from some extreme group.

You'll hear from my mouth how I feel about the community,

and then you actually see the relationship

I have with the community.

Sometimes we have to-- we have a term

called breaking your tunnel vision in police work.

And I believe there's this great chasm where

both sides of this issue has tunnel vision.

We're just stuck and beholden to our worldview,

because we're comfortable in it.

My goal is to make you uncomfortable in your world

view, and come out and meet me and know that I love you.

I want to serve you.

I want to serve you.

So the churches will be extremely powerful

if they would just encourage that.

Just everybody thinking outside the box,

putting down your walls, and let's build bridges.

Because the church used to be very, very influential,

years ago.

And I know that influence has been diminished.

And it doesn't matter whether Christian, Muslim, whatever,

but they used to be at the forefront of bringing people

together.

And that's where I think the church can

benefit, not just the police, but all communities.

It's almost like the church has taken a back seat to it.

DEON JOSEPH: Unfortunately.

Instead of being in the forefront of social change.

Right.

And social justice.

Right.

And helping people.

Right.

I think we've all suffered with,

this problem is too great.

And I don't have the skills, or I don't have the ability,

or whatever.

And if you ever get to that point in your life,

come talk to me.

Because there was no challenge greater than Skid Row.

And I'm still here.

It's been 19 years and I haven't gone anywhere.

And it's not-- right now it's not good.

Our hands are tied because of a lot of change in laws

and change in viewpoints.

And as a result crime is beginning to skyrocket again,

but I still haven't left.

So I may have lost a few victories,

but the one victory they can't take away from me

is the relationship I've built with the people.

And I believe that's important in the whole scheme of things.

What would you say to the folks that

say what we need is an increased law and order?

You know what?

There needs to be a balance.

You know what?

There are two sides that can be very dangerous

if they have too much power.

Now I'm a crime-- obviously, a crime control advocate.

I believe in law and order.

But if you give crime control advocates too much power,

then people often tend to be left in the cold or over

marginalized.

That can happen.

That's real.

Then you have due process advocates.

Some of their hearts are in the right place,

but if you give them too much power

then you take away the ability for police

to adequately keep people safe.

So there has to be balance.

There has to be balance between the two.

I always say-- and I'm not talking

about political preferences-- but there are two ideologies

that created Skid Row.

There's the extreme super, super right,

which believes in nimbyism.

Not in my backyard.

Get these homeless out of my area.

Ship them down to Skid Row so we don't have to deal with them,

because they have quote unquote services there.

And then you have the other extreme, which says, well,

because these people are poor, because they're homeless,

because they're disenfranchised, we

should just go hands off and let them do whatever they want

to do in the name of humanism.

One side creates this kind of concentration camp

without walls-- or asylum without walls, so to speak.

And the other side, when you take a hands off approach,

puts them in danger.

And the two extremes seem to be running the roost.

That has to die.

We all have to come to the middle

and have middle of the row thinking on this.

Yes, there needs to be enforcement

to create an environment conducive to change.

And we also need the programs designed

to try to help people change to be bolstered.

So let us create the environment as a law enforcement officer

so that those people can have more influence

in changing people's lives.

Amen, and amen.

I like to tell people, if you want to see down

and outers go to Skid Row, but realize this,

you can never be too dead for a Resurrection.

DEON JOSEPH: Absolutely.

So if you want to hear more Skid Row

stories of Resurrection you can get

a copy of Deon Joseph's book, "Diary of a Skid Row Cop."

And all you have to do is go to his website, deonjoseph.org

and you can get a copy of it.

I encourage you to do that.

Well thanks for joining us.

Thanks for praying.

Thanks.

God bless you.

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