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Eagle Rock woman serves on L.A. Police Commission while advocating for youths and families

By PAMELA AVILA

Sandra Figueroa-Villa is perhaps most well known for serving on the high-profile Los Angeles Police Commission. But the appointment of the Eagle Rock resident to the closely watched commission in 2013 comes after spending more than 40 years trying to improve communities.

Born and raised in South Los Angeles, Figueroa-Villa began her journey as an activist during her high school years and later as a student in Cal State L.A. The main focus of her professional life has been serving as the long-time head of El Centro del Pueblo, an Echo Park-based nonprofit that delivers a wide range of social services, from helping low-income families to running gang intervention programs and providing other youth services. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.

Figueroa-Villa spoke to The Eastsider about her role as police commissioner, the challenges women face in a predominantly male space and her love for her hometown

Tell us about what you do as a police commissioner

I work with four other appointed police commissioners to oversee the Los Angeles Police Department. Under the L.A. City Charter, we’re responsible for establishing and/or implementing policy and any police reforms. The Commissioners are representative of the L.A. community, and focus on the department’s efforts to improve service to the public, reduce crime and the fear of crime. …..The Mayor was also aware that I didn’t always have a great relationship with LAPD and worked to hold them accountable during the 70’s and early 80’s [when] police abuse was rampant.

What’s a common misconception surrounding  your role on the commission?

Many people seem to assume that Police Commissioners are paid. We are volunteers and dedicate approximately 30 hours or more each week outside of our personal or professional responsibilities.

What are the challenges women face working in a predominantly male police force? How do you work through those challenges?

Currently, the Department’s police force is 18% female and the department’s civilian workforce is 59% female. I know that being a police officer can be a challenge for women balancing family responsibilities, but the commission and the chief have committed to ensuring women are provided equal opportunities in all facets of employment, training, and promotability. As one of the three female police commissioners, I am proud to see how progressive the Mayor has been in regards to his initiative on gender equity within the city.

What led you to your work as Executive Director of El Centro Del Pueblo?

There’s something magical about having a safe environment for gang members who are trying to change their lives. The challenge for us was mainstreaming those who were successful in changing their lives and keeping them safe. We have expanded programs to provide our communities with health services, counseling programs, youth developmental programs, gang reduction, educational and counseling services, and mental health services. It has been my lifelong commitment to ensure these resources are available. Our services today are provided to the entire community.

You have 40 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, what inspires you to continue in that field?

As a native Angeleno born and raised in the city, I was exposed to many of the social challenges many people still experience today. It is the most fulfilling experience to help others in need and help them overcome many of the problems associated with economic struggles, crime, and violence. The future of our city relies on our youth and their ability to navigate through these challenges. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Where do you like to hang out and do for fun in your neighborhood?

My neighborhood is the whole city. From LACMA, Hollywood Bowl, Grand Performances to local neighborhood concerts. Central Ave Jazz Festival, Latin Jazz Festival in Sycamore Park to Eagle Rock Summer series concerts. I love the music events in Echo Park – where my heart is.

Since I am always working, I integrate fun hangouts with meetings. I can meet at Masa most of the time in Echo Park or La Abeja in Cypress Park. I love Jugos in Highland Park and Camilo’s, Pat and Lorraine’s in Eagle Rock. We have offices in South Los Angeles and love feasting on local soul food as well as the taquerias. Sometimes I will go fancy!

Fill in the blank: What our neighborhood needs is a….

Commitment from our community members to work with us to determine how we can best improve the city and make positive change.

Pamela Avila is a Los Angeles-based journalist, with a B.A. in English Literature from UC Santa Cruz. You can read more of her published work here.

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