BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
In the last two decades police agencies throughout the United States have changed their crime-fighting tactics. Just arresting the bad guys is no longer enough. Nowadays, the cops are partnering with local communities, prosecutors and special task forces to make life miserable for the criminal element and help steer troubled and at-risk youth toward more productive lifestyles.
Last Thursday, the approximately 30 people who attended the monthly meeting of the Wrigley Village Neighborhood Advisory Group (NAG) listened intently as two law enforcement officials and a task force chair described how those tactics are coming into play in Long Beach. The meeting took place at the community center on 2023 Pacific Avenue.
After some introductory comments by NAG member and community activist P.G. Herman, 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews addressed the audience, encouraging everyone to report all crimes and suspicious activity to the police and pledging that his office will do everything in its power to help residents, the police and other agencies work together to reduce violence and all other crimes in Long Beach.
Then Lieutenant Joe Levy of the Long Beach Police department (LBPD) spoke. He stressed that one of the most effective means of making neighborhoods safer is the involvement of residents. “There’s been scientific research on this topic,” he said, explaining that studies have proven that when residents get involved in neighborhood watch groups, neighborhood associations, and other organizations designed to solve problems and improve local conditions, the crime rate declines while the quality of life markedly improves in those neighborhoods.
“Obviously, what you guys are doing matches what this research has said,” Levy noted. He reminded the audience members about the LBPD’s participation in recent neighborhood clean-ups. “Then some of you had this idea to do this huge campaign which involved closing Pine Avenue, bringing out 125-plus volunteers, getting the media out there and getting the people in the neighborhood involved,” he said, referring to the “Wrigley Taking Back Pine” event that took place a couple of months ago, mostly under Herman’s leadership. “In my 23 years with the police department, I have never seen an event as successful as that February 23 event,” Levy added, noting that a sequel to that gathering was on the way. “On May 31, we are going a couple of blocks west to Locust Avenue and we’re going to do the same thing,” he said.
Referring to the Taking Back Pine event, Levy noted that the neighborhoods in the vicinity of Pine and Pacific Coast Highway have been plagued by violent crimes for years. “Unfortunately the police department has not had a good working relationship with many of those community members,” he said, explaining that even the law-abiding majority of residents in that area have been afraid to talk to police for fear of gang retaliation. He noted that Taking Back Pine was the LBPD’s first step towards building relationships with community members there and that move seemed to be progressing well since then.
“The work is not done,” Levy said. He explained that the LBPD and several other agencies were planning to conduct community dialogues (in June) to sustain and expand the accomplishments of Taking Back Pine. He said those dialogues would include the adults and youth of that area. “We want to recruit people that have had negative experiences with the police department,’ he said. “We’re going to sit at the table with them for several hours to talk about perceptions, expectations and questions that each group has.” He noted that when residents understand the mission of their police department, and the police department understands the residents’ needs and concerns, relationships improve and crime declines.
One of the organizations partnering with the LBPD to stem the tide of violence is the Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Task Force, which operates under the auspices of the City of Long Beach. Dr. Lydia A. Hollie- task force chair- explained to the NAG audience the role her organization plays in reducing violence in the city. She noted that while law enforcement was vital to the safety of residents, law enforcement alone could not solve the serious problems facing America today. “Every society is perfectly engineered to get the results that it gets,” she said. “Clearly, if you want to change, you have to reengineer.” In her approximately 20-minute presentation, Hollie explained that society needs to expend much more energy teaching young people- starting at the elementary school level- that violence is not acceptable behavior and that there are peaceful ways to solve problems and resolve conflicts. She urged the audience members to get involved in the task force. “People are absolutely ready for a change,” she said, remarking that the involvement of local residents can help encourage young people to become “healthy, law-abiding and contributing members of society who respect the rights of others and themselves.”
After Hollie’s comments, Deputy City Prosecutor Calvin “Ray” George explained how his office works with law-abiding residents to make neighborhoods safer. He said he was pleased that Long Beach had so many community groups that were actively involved on improving the quality of life in the city. “My marching orders from my boss are three pronged,” he said. “Number one, I am supposed to do everything I possibly can to help control the gang situation.” He explained his primary tool for doing so was the injunction process, which makes the lives of gang members “as miserable as possible” by making it illegal for them to associate with one another in certain sections of the city.
“Number two, I am supposed to work with the code people to try to enhance the buildings and the environment that everyone has to live in,” George said. “Number three, I work with community groups to identify problems as to where resources of the city can be utilized.” He urged residents to report code violations, graffiti and other problems to city officials as soon as possible.
To find out about forming a neighborhood watch group, phone (562) 570-7229. For more information on the Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Task Force, phone (562) 714-7473. To contact George at the city prosecutor’s office, phone (562) 570-5631.