Though property crime has spiked this year, violent crime, such as murders, robberies and aggravated assaults, has actually remained relatively low in Long Beach, according to law-enforcement officials.
Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert attributes the reported decrease to various programs that his office has helped implement in the last few years to eradicate gang activity throughout the city. “By targeting the gang members, I think we’re making a dent in violent crime,” he said.
Haubert, who is running for re-election next year, gave an hour-long overview of his office’s duties and accomplishments during a North Long Beach Community Assembly last Saturday, May 18 at the Glad Tidings Church at 1900 E. South St. The meeting was attended by about 50 people and was jointly organized by 8th District Councilmember Al Austin and 9th District Councilmember Steven Neal.
So far this year, north Long Beach alone saw a 29.6-percent drop in violent crime over the same time period in 2012, while property crime is up by 2.3 percent, said North Patrol Division Police Commander Robert Luman, who provided statistics during the meeting. Although there was a 700-percent increase in shootings at the beginning of the year, the number of shootings so far this year has fallen relatively flat compared to last year, he said.
In January, the Long Beach Police Department reported in its year-end report that Long Beach was at a 40-year low for violent crime in 2012, though property crime had jumped by 10 percent.
That reduction in violent crime, however, has come despite cash-strapped times in which the City has slashed its police force and cut back on after-school programs and recreational activities for children. At the same time, Long Beach and other cities across California have seen an influx of criminals being let out of jail early because of the State’s “realignment” legislation.
“If anything, there should be a huge spike,” Haubert said. “The fact that it’s at a record low is good news, and I think it’s a testament of how the [gang] injunctions are being used in part. But it’s also, I think, due to the fact that we’re working smarter now… We need to continue on this path.”
Though the Long Beach city prosecutor’s office handles an average of about 14,000 cases per year, Haubert said one of his main objectives after being elected in 2010 was to go after gangs in particular. He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation states that 48 percent of all violent crimes committed nationwide are gang-related, and in some communities the percentage of violent crimes attributed to gangs can be up to 90 percent.
Long Beach currently has various gang injunctions throughout the city in which an established gang in a particular neighborhood or area is sued by the City of Long Beach and is served a court order as an unincorporated association.
Under the injunction, affiliated gang members in the bounded gang “territories” are ordered to follow certain rules, such as not being allowed to congregate with each other in parks or public places and not being allowed out past their injunction-ordered curfew. If gang members break the injunction order, they could be subject to arrests. Ultimately, however, the injunctions prevent other crimes by allowing police officers to more easily identify known gang members, who are often stopped and found to be in possession of drugs, guns and even weapons that have been used in murders.
Within the last few years, many gangs have been moving their organizations out of the city and moving others in as a way to bypass the injunctions, Haubert said.
As a way to crack down, the Long Beach city prosecutor’s office has become the first to target a prison gang known as the Mexican Mafia by filing an injunction against its affiliate, the Sureño (“Southerner”) gang, which had been organizing Hispanic street gang members and criminal activities in north Long Beach and throughout Southern California, Haubert said.
“These shot-callers were allowing different gangs to operate in other gangs’ territories… almost like pieces on a chess board, moving them around at will,” he said. “The organizational structure was being influenced here at the local level, and we decided we were going to be the first city to actually target the Mexican Mafia by adding the Sureño gang organization… Long Beach is a leader in that respect.”
Haubert said technological advancements, such as enabling officers to use a gang-injunction database from their vehicles, has helped the program become more efficient to do “more with less.” In fact, as of last year, there have been roughly eight times more gang-injunction arrests since 2009, increasing from 35 to 269 per year, he said.
Haubert’s office has also established Operation Opt Out, which provides an opportunity for gang members to break out of the court order and, ultimately, the gang life. In order for that to happen, however, gang members are required to be enrolled in school or working full time, perform community service, completely disaffiliate with the gang and come forward with two community sponsors willing to vouch for them.
“What happens is sometimes people grow up, and they get a family and get a job and you know what? They’re not involved in the gang life anymore,” Haubert said. “Not only are we creating an avenue to remove people from an injunction that helps them personally but it helps our program by showing that there’s a way out of the injunction. It’s the carrot and the stick. There’s hope at the end of this. If you don’t want to gang bang anymore there’s a way off the injunction. We could help you if you want to do that.”
Another way to stop gang violence is to discourage children from joining a gang in the first place. Haubert said gangs in Long Beach recruit children as young as 12 and 13 years old, many of whom skip school. The city prosecutor’s office, however, has implemented a truancy program in partnership with the Long Beach Unified School District to prosecute parents who don’t force their children to attend school.
“When school’s in session [gangs are] finding them on the streets,” he said. “They’re easy targets. They’re prey. They’re sitting targets for the gangs to come up and say, ‘Hey, you want to do this? You want to sell this? Just by getting kids to school every single day and having them stay in school, not only is it good for the schools… because they get money … it’s harder for the gangs to recruit kids who are in school.”
Haubert said about 75 percent of those in state prison are school dropouts, which shows that statistically those dropouts have a higher chance of becoming involved in criminal activity or drugs. He said the number of dropped school days is cut in half once the children and their parents come to the city prosecutor’s office.
Haubert added, however, that he wants to continue to expand the truancy and opt-out programs, in addition to allowing low-level offenders to participate in community service as a way to resolve convictions instead of taking up court time.
Still, Councilmember Austin noted that the LBUSD has had to cut summer school this year due to budget cuts and has also chopped its truancy program. This is why, he said, it’s imperative for the City to allocate more funds ($100,000 per council district from oil revenue) this year toward parks and recreation programs for at-risk youth.
For the first time in many years, the 8th and 9th district council offices are organizing a new midnight basketball program, aimed at at-risk teenage girls and boys to help them stay safe and productive during the summer, in addition to other programming at Houghton Park and Scherer Park in north Long Beach this year.
“We’re really putting a lot of emphasis on making our streets, our parks and our communities safer,” Austin said. “Unintended consequences actually happen… I can guarantee you I will be working to collaborate more with our school district and paying a lot more attention to the decisions made at the school-district level.”