Nearly a dozen residents attended the Signal Hill Police Department’s (SHPD) Coffee with Cops outreach to the community, and Chief Michael Langston said he was pleased with the turnout. “A handful of people came, but we are glad to have the chance to meet members of the public,” he said. Langston, who has been at the SHPD helm for a year, said he enjoys working in Signal Hill. “It’s a great community, small and very close knit,” he said. “Everyone seems to know everybody. It’s a very well-cared-for community, and I am proud to be part of the city government here.”
The event happened in the Golden Eagle Restaurant and provided locals the chance to have informal, face-to-face conversations with the chief and two SHPD officers.
None of the residents and business people who came expressed complaints or concerns about the way the SHPD does its job, but some asked questions. Langston said that the outreach was also designed to inform residents on department procedures and to answer questions on crime numbers.
Recently, the Long Beach Police Department released statistics showing that the overall crime rate in Long Beach had increased in recent months. Langston said the same increase was not occurring in Signal Hill. “Right now, year to date, our crime rate is down in all categories except for two,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in petty larceny and auto theft.”
The chief explained that in most years auto theft fluctuates so an increase in that category is not unusual. “We are not sure why petty larceny has been increasing lately, but we suspect there may be an impact from the prison realignment issue, which includes the early release of some state prisoners and changes in the parole and probation system,” he said. “We are just starting to track that issue and track the numbers to see if there is an actual correlation, but the good news is that our overall crime rate is down.”
Langston noted that he hopes to see more residents and business owners involved in proactive crime prevention, but one of the first things he discovered after being hired was that the neighborhood watch and business watch programs had become mostly dormant. “We are actually in the process of restarting a neighborhood-watch and a business-watch program,” he said. “I am a firm believer that those programs are the best crime-prevention programs out there.”
Langston said that, in his observation, SHPD officers have good relationships with the city’s residents. He added that Coffee with Cops was designed to improve communication and rapport with community members.
SHPD Sgt. Robert Cravens echoed much of what Langston said. “We like to meet people in the community and give them a chance to meet us, so people can have a better understanding of what we do,” he added. Cravens explained that police dramas and reality shows do not accurately portray the typical, daily duties of police patrol officers and detectives, but many people believe that what they see on television is what happens in real life. “If we are able to explain it a little bit better, that is what we want to do,” he said.
Cravens said the department wants to improve its already strong connection with the community. “That is one of the purposes of this meeting, to open up the dialogue with the people who live and work in Signal Hill and the officers whose job it is to keep the city safe,” he said.
Gary Paolucci lives in Long Beach, but he operates an automotive-repair business called Datsun Alley in Signal Hill. “I come here every morning. I saw the flier on the window and have always been intrigued by the officers, so I thought I would come and say hello,” he said. “I think the Signal Hill police officers are fantastic. I have nothing but good to say about them.”
SHPD Operations Lt. Ron Sagmit said he thinks Coffee with Cops went well for its first time. “It’s a great opportunity to meet members of the community, and I look forward to our future events, and I hope for bigger turnouts,”
Sagmit said he was pleased that none of the people that came to the Coffee with Cops gathering expressed complaints about the SHPD, but he, Langston and Cravens would have welcomed the opportunity to address complaints. “But the people who were here today just seemed to come out to express appreciation for the police department,” Sagmit said. “The purpose of this event was just to give people an opportunity to meet us and talk to us one-on-one.”
Signal Hill resident Nancy Sciortino agreed with Sagmit. “I came to meet the officers and to express my thanks to them,” she said. “They have always had very good response times when I have called them, and I have always had good experiences with them.”
Sciortino added that she also looks forward to having more informal meetings with the SHPD. “This is a great idea,” she said. “I tried to get some of my friends to come, but they could not because of their work schedules.” Langston said the department plans to do just that.