By Nick Diamantides
It wasn’t supposed to be a discussion on crime, but that seemed to be the only topic the locals wanted to talk about. Eighth District Long Beach City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich hosted one of her “Community Coffees” last Saturday morning to update residents on events in the district, but after her brief presentation, the residents drilled her and Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officials with questions pertaining to the recent rash of crimes in the Bixby Knolls and California Heights areas.
The two-hour meeting took place at Il Poggio Restaurant, and about 55 people attended.
“I know some of you are here this morning because there have been a number of home burglaries recently in the Bixby Knolls and Cal Heights areas,” Gabelich told the audience. She also mentioned several burglaries and vandalism at Atlantic Avenue businesses.
“We also had a couple of high-profile incidents this past week, including an armed robbery attempt at Porky’s Pizza, and (an incident in which) a teenager was beaten and robbed by another teenager, which led to a K-9 and helicopter search in the Cal Heights area,” Gabelich said. “I am glad to say that in both of those cases, the suspects were all arrested.”
Gabelich invited everyone to attend a community safety meeting hosted by her and 7th District Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga on Feb. 10 at Hughes Middle School during which LBPD officials will discuss the recent outbreak of crimes.
That said, Gabelich talked about two recent Bixby Knolls openings. The first is a new exhibit at the Historical Society Long Beach, located at 4260 Atlantic Ave. It’s called Produce for Victory: Posters of the American Home Front, 1941–1945. The Rosie the Riveter Foundation is co-presenting the exhibit with help from 5th District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske.
Gabelich also encouraged residents to visit a new store, Giltcomplex Antiques, next to the Baba Ghanouj Restaurant.
Next, Gabelich talked about the recent start of construction of a visitor center at Rancho Los Cerritos. “This will be an exciting addition to the Rancho that will provide an opportunity for more education and interpretive items to show life in the early days of Long Beach,” she said.
Finally, Gabelich mentioned the city’s new chief of police, Jim McDonnell. “I have heard from many people that he is an outstanding person who is very qualified, and I look forward to working with him,” she said. “My concerns and disappointment are with the process that was used in the selection, and that we had many outstanding candidates within the Long Beach Police Department.”
After Gabelich’s presentation, the meeting moved into a question-and-answer period, which focused almost entirely on the recent crimes.
LBPD Sergeant Steve Petersen and Deputy Chief Robert Luna took turns fielding questions from the audience. Petersen began by assuring the residents that, except for some of the home burglaries, there was no evidence to indicate that the suspects in the recent spate of crimes were working together or even knew each other. He stressed that getting to know neighbors and promptly reporting all suspicious activity to the police are two very effective ways to prevent crime.
Luna noted that overall crime in the city has decreased during the past seven years. “We are doing so much better than we were doing 10 years ago,” he said. “But I understand that if you’re sitting in this audience and your house got burglarized last week, you don’t care about crime statistics. I have been a victim of a crime, and I know it does not feel good.”
In response to questions from audience members, Luna noted that the LBPD North Division, which includes Bixby Knolls and Cal Heights, was leading all other divisions in reduction of armed robberies. He explained that police response times for priority-one calls, which include violent crimes in progress and life-threatening situations, have to be less than five minutes. He explained that because of that requirement and the distribution of officers throughout the city, response times to less urgent situations sometimes take longer than callers wish.
Residents also asked about the proliferation of gangs, gang shootings, graffiti, would-be burglars posing as door-to-door solicitors, suspicious persons who remove items from recycling bins, and people who collect envelopes with bank account and credit card information from trash bins.
One woman asked if it is acceptable to shoot someone who has broken into your home and is threatening to harm you. “You absolutely have the right to defend yourself in your home if someone is going to hurt you,” Luna said. He stressed however that shooting someone who is running away from your house will usually be considered a crime.
At the close of the meeting, Gabelich reminded the residents that more in-depth discussions on crime would take place at Hughes Middle School on Feb. 10.