Shooting, other problems at park draw concerned crowd to public meeting

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LBPD Lt. Jeff Liberman (left) and North Division Commander Billy Squach discuss the recent shooting that took place at Somerset Park.

Story and Photo by Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

A late Sunday afternoon shooting at Somerset Park along with ongoing problems there have put local residents on edge. Last Monday night, about 55 of them showed up at a meeting with the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) to discuss their concerns. The shooting had taken place on July 12 at the park, located at 1500 E. Carson St.
Hosted by 7th District Long Beach City Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, the meeting included presentations made by four LBPD officials: North Division Commander Billy Quach, Lt. Jeff Liberman, Lt. Randy Hausauer, and officer Victor Ortiz. Marc Gutfeld, recreation superintendent for Long Beach’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine, also spoke during the meeting.
Liberman told the audience that he was very pleased with the turnout. “If more people followed your example and showed up at meetings to discuss problems in their area, we would have a much safer city,” he said, adding that he was sorry the residents had experienced what happened on July 12.
Liberman noted, however, that the shooting was an anomaly and the park does not have a history of many felonies. “We had a robbery in 2006 and this recent shooting there,” he said. “Those are the only two felonies that I know about.” Liberman told the audience that the police responded to 160 calls for service at the park in 2008 and 96 calls so far in 2009. “We have been out there a lot, but mostly for minor incidents like vandalism, tagging and excessive noise,” he said. “That’s a credit to all of you. We want you to call us whenever you see something suspicious.”
He explained that normally police officers have very limited authority to stop a car. “But if the officers are responding to a report, their authority to stop a car greatly increases,” he said. “It really helps us when you make those calls.”
Carolyn Yano, who lives close the park, asked Liberman what kind of things should be reported to the police. “You know who belongs in the neighborhood, and you all have an innate sense of something being wrong,” Liberman replied. “When you get that sense that something is not right, call us.”
Quach added that people walking down the street and looking into the windows of houses and cars is something that should arouse suspicion, and so should the sight of strangers carrying things out of someone’s house. “Just call us, and we will come out and find out what is going on,” he said. “If you don’t call, you could be letting someone get away with a crime.” Quach added that if people look as if they are hiding or exchanging money or drugs in the park, the police should be called.
Liberman asked residents to report anything that looks like gang activity. He explained that in many gang shootings, one gang will be loitering and a rival gang will either walk by or drive by. “The gangs will exchange signs and then the rival gang will come back later and look to see if anyone is watching,” he said. “At that point, shots will often be fired.”
Hausauer said the recent shooting at Somerset Park involved two rival Pacific Islander gangs with a longstanding dispute. “We arrested three suspects and charged all of them with attempted murder,” he said. “We also charged two of them with possession for sales of drugs.” He added that the young man who was shot did not suffer life-threatening injuries.
Hausauer, who is part of the LBPD’s gang enforcement section, also told the audience that keeping parks safe is one of the LBPD’s priorities. “Our gang units spend a lot of time in the parks because we know how important they are and because kids use parks,” he said. He added that at this point, he knows of no gang that was claiming Somerset Park as its turf.
Quach added that when the LBPD obtains intelligence concerning a possible planned shooting or gang confrontation, officers are dispatched to prevent the incident. “But we had no intelligence to warn us of the shooting at Somerset Park,” he said.
Hausauer noted that the effort to eradicate gangs has to include more than law enforcement. “We need to have more adults volunteering in programs that provide recreation, supervision and mentoring for kids,” he said. “It’s programs like that that actually keep kids from joining gangs.”
A woman in the audience named Claudia encouraged everyone to go to the park and meet the young people who are there. “These are the young people that are going to be our future,” she said. “We need to let them know we care.” She added that just making eye contact with people can discourage criminal activity.
Another woman asked if video cameras could be installed in the park. Quach and Uranga replied that with the city’s current budget deficit, it is unlikely, unless local residents are willing to bear the costs of purchase, maintenance and monitoring.
Gutfeld encouraged residents to phone him if they see anything amiss at the park. After his very brief presentation, several residents asked that the park’s 10pm closure be enforced and that no basketball games be allowed to continue beyond that time.
Most of the residents at the meeting also objected to a proposal to rename the park after longtime city employee Chrissy Marshall, who recently passed away. The city council will be considering the name change during its August 4 meeting.

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