Koban at The Grove: It’s Not a New Fashion Store

Periodically Curating Los Angeles publishes guest posts that highlight an interesting facet of life in greater LA. While they can focus on people, organizations, or places, among other subjects, what I look for is an article with a LA focus that engages me personally. Today I’m pleased to present an original piece written by James Bartlett.


Guest post by James Bartlett

thegrove_logoThe Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) may be known to the world for high-speed freeway chases, but here at The Grove outdoor mall in the Fairfax District, it’s a rather different story…..

The ding-ding-ding of the faux 1950s streetcar mixes with the sounds of water shooting skywards in perfect sync to a Sinatra tune, and people snap selfies of the display (and themselves) – but the two people in the gray, lattice-windowed structure nearby aren’t here for shopping or the splashy show.

They are on duty in a unique police substation that’s putting a friendly face on the LAPD in the center of a destination visited by millions every year. A sort of grandfather to the blue police boxes of 1960s London that inspired “Doctor Who’s” Tardis, thousands of kobans have been in operation across Japan since the 19th century, and now their community police box idea has arrived here too.

It was The Grove that approached the LAPD about opening and funding this koban, explained Teddy Williams, a 23 year veteran and former Marine, as the air conditioning blew at full blast in the small structure – there’s barely room for chairs, a small fridge and a tall filing cabinet.


Photo by James Bartlett

He admitted that while much of their work here isn’t exactly heart-pounding, they’re nevertheless always keeping a vigilant eye out for anything – anything at all. “So far nothing out of the ordinary has happened, though the mall security did recently have a Donald Trump lookalike (wig included!) who jumped in the fountain,” he laughs, adding that most of the crimes at The Grove are small-scale larcenies.

There’s the rather predictable “shoplifting,” or stealing from the stores, and also LFA – larceny from automobile. “This is a popular last-stop for tourists before they go to LAX,” he reveals, “and some folks from out-of-town or abroad are more used to leaving their doors unlocked.”

At that moment there’s a strange sound (at least to some of the momentarily-confused tourists), but there’s no cause for alarm: it’s a number of excited teenage girls. “When there’s a celebrity out shopping, the teenagers go crazy!” says one of the mall’s numerous security staff, who have stopped by to say hello while on their beat.

Though there is a koban that serves as a visitor’s center in Little Tokyo, this is the first one in LA that’s fit for purpose, and the biggest surprise of all, Williams says, is that people regularly come up to the always-open window. “We have stickers and coloring books for kids – and mall guides – but people from all over the world have been coming by just to shake hands. The koban is already a good thing for everyone.”

Each officer from the Wilshire division is assigned here two days a month, “and it’s quickly become a popular shift,” Williams admits, before he’s interrupted by a crackle on the radio. It seems someone has been light-fingered in one of the stores. It won’t make the nightly news, but they’re happy with that.