LAPD Officer Nabs Car Thieves, Pioneers Surveillance Detail

In Officer Dana Binion's tenure, the West L.A. Surveillance Detail made more than 700 felony arrests, with a 99 percent conviction rate, and more than 100 misdemeanor arrests.

Melanie Basich 2012 Headshot

Officer Dana Binion wanted to make his job at the West L.A. Division of the LAPD more efficient. In starting the Surveillance Detail in his division, he helped popularize use of a targeted approach to catching criminals and unmarked cars that had formerly been reserved for narcotics and vice. For his contributions the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has named him the May 2011 Officer of the Month.

"It was around 1992 and we were being targeted by South End and East L.A. gang members for vehicle theft and car burglary," remembers Binion. "Together fellow officer Paul Kanary and I started working a surveillance detail in unmarked cars, targeting areas suspects were working in. What we did is what's now called Compstat."

Before Binion and Kanary began the surveillance detail, marked patrol cars would drive around hoping to catch car thieves in the act. But that was tough considering how visible the black-and-whites were. Instead, the two men-who were the only members of the new detail-began each driving a nondescript car equipped only with a radio so they could blend in undetected.

They would maintain constant radio communication with squad cars nearby via "a tac channel." When Binion or his partner witnessed what they believed to be a crime in progress, they'd surreptitiously follow the car out of the area to keep track of it and let the black and whites know where to find the suspect and conduct the stop. The system worked.

"We were successful, and got a reputation, and the idea took off," says Binion. "Then we would train other officers, and they would go and start it in their division. Now there's a surveillance detail at several divisions in LAPD," Binion says proudly.

Kanary retired shortly after the detail was started, but Binion continued to train and mentor other officers, adapting the model to address other problems in the city.

Initially, the focus was auto-related crimes. But later on, the Surveillance Detail began also surveilling areas where other crimes, such as business burglaries and robberies, were taking place in large numbers. Binion and his team have also arrested a fair number of carjackers in the course of their work. It's difficult to know how a situation will develop, and how members of the surveillance detail will need to react in each situation.

During one surveillance, Binion and his protégé Kenny Collard witnessed two suspects unsuccessfully attempt both a vehicle break-in and a carjacking. But they didn't stop there. The two men then attempted a street robbery, which Collard was able to interrupt. "One suspect was shot and killed, and myself and other officers chased and apprehended the other suspect and took him into custody," Binion says.

Over the years, the West L.A. Surveillance Detail has found its stride, thanks in no small part to Binion's continued guidance. Right now it consists of four officers, but it's fluctuated between two and six, depending on need. Because it's important all members be familiar with the area for effective surveillance, only officers who have worked in that division for several years are assigned to the detail. Binion says he's found this is essential to the detail's success. But he also gives credit to his command staff and citizens in the community for their continued support.

In Binion's tenure, the West L.A. Surveillance Detail made more than 700 felony arrests, with a 99 percent conviction rate, and more than 100 misdemeanor arrests. Now the veteran officer is hanging up his hat, but he's confident the detail he helped start is in good hands and he's happy with the legacy he's left behind.

"I am very proud of what I and we as a detail accomplished, creating and maintaining that detail, keeping the community safe, and reducing crime."

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Melanie Basich 2012 Headshot
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