By Nick Diamantides
There’s no doubt about it. The recent rise in burglaries and vandalism in Bixby Knolls and California Heights, an attempted armed robbery and the assault-robbery of a teenager have galvanized many residents who live in those areas. On Thursday, Feb. 4, about 65 locals attended the community meeting at the Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) North Division headquarters. Most of them wanted to know what the police were doing to push back what several of them called “a crime wave.”
“I don’t like to use the term ‘crime wave,’” said North Division Commander David Hendricks. He insisted that the recent incidents are better understood as a temporary spike in crime in the area, not a trend that is likely to continue.
Hendricks pointed out that, according to 2009 crime statistics the LBPD has provided to the United States Department of Justice, overall crime in the North Division sector of Long Beach is steadily decreasing. He explained that crimes are broken down into two general categories: Part One crimes are illegal acts committed against a person, and Part Two Crimes are property crimes such as burglary or theft.
The commander gave a PowerPoint presentation to the audience and noted that, although there are approximately 30 specific crimes in each category, he was only focusing on the most serious offenses. “For Part One, we selected murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault,” he said. Hendricks noted that 13 murders were committed in the North Division sector in 2009 compared to six murders in 2008. He explained, however, that 2008 was an exceptionally good year, and there had been 13 murders in 2007.
He noted that no one was charged with manslaughter in that part of town in 2009, and rapes and robberies had slightly declined in 2009, while aggravated assault had slightly increased.
Hendricks noted that in 2009 the North Division led the city in overall crime reduction. “Total crime (in this area) was down 11-and-one-half percent compared to 2008,” he said. “We are doing some good work, but obviously we have some challenges. We are going to build on the successes that we have had.”
Hendricks noted that while most Part Two crimes had decreased in the North Division sector, automobile burglaries have slightly increased. According to Hendricks, in spite of the recent rash of home burglaries in the California Heights area, home burglaries in the North Division sector are continually declining. “I am not minimizing the fact that some homes have been burglarized,” he said. “We have made some arrests. We have a number of juveniles that are going around during the day for the most part and committing residential burglaries.”
He explained that the young burglars’ usual method is to knock on a door, offering to sell something to a resident. If no one answers the door, the burglars attempt to break into the house. “Most of the ones we have arrested are not gang members,” Hendricks said. “A few of them are.”
Hendricks added that recently “impact motors” units were added to the North Division. The units are motorcycle officers who do much more than traffic enforcement. “They stop everything,” he said. “I was out with them last week when they did a simple traffic stop and pulled out two gang members and took them to jail for having a loaded firearm in the car.” The commander noted that the arrest of those two thugs had probably prevented a planned shooting. “Why else would they have a loaded weapon in the car?” he asked.
Hendricks also talked about the recent attempted armed robbery of Porky’s Pizza at 3819 Atlantic Ave. “We had three people come in and attempt to rob the store,” he said. “They were not successful. They ran from the store, and we arrested two male subjects and one female subject and we recovered one firearm and other evidence in connection with that.”
The commander explained that the would-be robbers fled from the restaurant when an employee pulled out his own gun and fired on them. At that, the audience burst into laughter and applause. Hendricks noted that the employee acted within his rights and was not charged with a crime. He added that the three suspects have been implicated in other crimes throughout the city.
John Royce, president of the California Heights Neighborhood Association, told Hendricks that, according to a rumor, the Crips gang was moving into the area and was responsible for the recent spike in crimes there.
Hendricks insisted the rumor was false. He explained that while the robbery suspects belonged to a Compton gang, there was nothing linking that gang to the recent burglaries and acts of vandalism in the area.
After his presentation, Hendricks fielded questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. During that time, he was asked about newly appointed Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “He didn’t get to be number-two in LAPD by being dumb. I have not heard a lot of comments (from LBPD rank and file),” Hendricks replied. “I don’t have any personal experience with Chief McDonnell, but I do know that many of the officers at LAPD are saying ‘our loss, your gain.’ He called us in and chatted with us for about 40 minutes. He’s a real nice guy and obviously has the skills to manage this organization.”
In closing, Hendricks praised the men and women who work in the North Division for their dedication and tenacity. He also encouraged residents to report all crimes and suspicious activities to the police.
Hendricks has been with the LBPD for 16 years. He had been the commander of Youth Services Division until October 2009, when he was appointed North Division Commander to replace Commander Billy Quach, who at that time was appointed acting chief of police.