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Coronavirus Prompts New Safety Protocols in Little Tokyo

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The Little Tokyo Business Improvement District safety patrol is led by Commander Michael James (left), who is pictured with officers Joseph Smith, Cynthia Muratalla, and Angel Velasco. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Like many communities across America, Little Tokyo is experiencing a downturn in its economy, the result of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s safer-at-home mandate and other coronavirus pandemic-related restrictions. Many shops and offices have temporarily closed, and several restaurants have pivoted to take-out and delivery service only.

Concerned that the presence of empty storefronts might attract vandalism or looting, Los Angeles Police Department Central Division Capt. T.S. Harrelson urged downtown Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to maintain safety patrols to help reduce the possibility of property crimes.

In Little Tokyo, District Safety Commander Michael James leads a team composed of Lt. Jessica Delgadillo and officers Angel Velasco, Joseph Smith, Cynthia Muratalla, and David Hernandez, who provide safety services seven days a week throughout the year.

“Our focus is not only on providing quality public health and safety, but to be a visible presence to discourage property damage and prevent crime in the district,” explains James.

James assumed command of the Little Tokyo patrol in 2016 and has watched the neighborhood’s rapid growth with the influx of new businesses and residents over the past three and a half years. He previously worked for the Arts District BID.

In addition to responding to calls for assistance from merchants, residents and workers, the BID officers help ensure the well-being of the district’s large population of seniors. Delgadillo, in addition to overseeing the patrol’s late shift, is a licensed vocational nurse.

The Little Tokyo BID was established by the Los Angeles City Council in 2003 and is managed by the Little Tokyo Business Association (LTBA).

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