By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporter Brittany Ballard and VoiceWaves Reporter Intern Ben Novotny
Trey Gaston, 20, from East Long Beach recalled times in high school when he would have to run, rather than walk, home from school.
“I would get chased most of the way home by gangs on my blocks because I wasn’t part of one,” Gaston said. “I never wanted to be in a gang. I just wanted to graduate high school and go to college.” He went on to explain, “Lots of the guys on my block were gang members, and they didn’t like that I didn’t want to be one too.”
Over the last year the city has worked with community members to create a comprehensive violence prevention plan that would reduce violent crime, decrease the unemployment rate and increase community safety.
After more than a year of planning and community forums, the Long Beach city council passed the Long Beach Violence Prevention Plan (LBVPP) on May 13. Concerned community members came to the council meeting to ask that the plan’s implementation be delayed for another 60 days, but their efforts were fruitless and the plan was passed as it was.
“Although we support the city’s effort to develop a violence prevention plan, the current plan outlined a framework that did not include existing proven effective strategies and models like the BE SAFE Summer Violence Reduction Initiative that is comprehensive enough and addresses violence on a macro level rather than focusing on small isolated programs,” said Francisco Martinez, Youth Coordinator at Centro Community Hispanic Association (CHA).
Martinez and others argued that, while they did appreciate that the plan did take a holistic approach to violence, the plan was vague and did not explain in detail how they would be addressing violence in the city.
Rene Castro, Hub Manager of Building Healthy Communities (BHC), feels that park safety is a big concern as data conducted by UCLA shows that only one percent of students ages 14 to 19 feel parks are safe after dark. He also feels that gang violence and lack of school discipline are large contributors to violence and crime in the community—all issues that were not specified directly in the plan.
Castro, however, emphasized that the BHC will continue to work to ensure that the community of Long Beach is “at the table and has the capacity to hold city council accountable” in the efforts to make Long Beach a safer community.
Throughout 2013, multiple “Community Input Forums” convened allowing residents of Long Beach to voice their ideas and concerns about violence and crime.
“The development of a Violence Prevention Plan will help to make Long Beach safer, where residents and visitors feel safe and our young people will be able to grow up safely,” said Mayor Bob Foster in a press release.
Annie Howes, a community member of Long Beach, said she desperately wants the violence to end, as she recalled a past event that hit close to home.
“One of my close childhood friends, that was like a brother to me, was shot and killed about five years ago near his apartment in Long Beach,” Howes said. “I don’t want to lose anyone else over something that can ultimately be prevented.”
The Violence Prevention Plan is not the first effort to lower crime and violence in Long Beach. In 2007, the GRIP Project was initiated to reduce gangs by offering youth support, education, workshops and job training. The last GRIP initiative took place in 2011.
In 2010, Long Beach initiated the Summer Night Lights Program geared towards youth and their families to decrease violence in the community and clean up the streets. This program takes place at MLK, Drake and Admiral Kidd Park each summer from July through August. Although both programs have been successful at curbing violence in the community, insufficient funding has led to many cutbacks.
While Long Beach’s crime and violence rates are relatively high, a recent report of the Long Beach Police Department shows that the total rate of crime in Long Beach has decreased 6.4 percent in the last year.
Residents surveyed believe that additional measures must be taken to improve the safety of their neighborhoods, as well as the city of Long Beach as a whole. According to the LBVPP survey that was distributed to the community in 2013, the majority of residents agreed that after-school programs, job development, neighborhood watches, police presence, and better communication between police and the community must be improved.
Along with input from its community members, Long Beach has received aid and advice from outside sources. The National League of Cities and the National Crime Prevention Council have put forth efforts to help with the LBVPP. Also, Long Beach is following in the footsteps of cities that have had prior success with violence prevention initiatives of their own.
“We also want to look at what other cities are doing to reduce violence,” said LBVPP director Tracy Colunga, looking to San Jose’s model. There the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force initiative, established in 1991, was very successful in cleaning up their streets and keeping the community safe. Due to San Jose’s success at preventing crime over the last 20 years, this initiative has been nationally recognized as an effective model for addressing violence and crime in many cities.
Funding for the LBVPP is still in progress. They received a grant from the California Endowment, but the city of Long Beach hopes to receive further grants and donations in order to follow through with the implementation process. Currently, there is no set date in which this plan will take effect, as it will be up to the new elected mayor and Long Beach City Council to determine costs and other such matters concerning its implementation.
For additional information, please visit LBVPP.org or contact Violence Prevention Coordinator Tracy Colunga at Tracy.Colunga@longbeach.gov or (562) 570-4413.