By Sofia Yassine and Shannon Smythe
Editor’s Note: This article was written as part of the CSULB Journalism Senior Seminar. It is one of a series of articles written by CSULB students which will appear in Voicewaves throughout the summer.
LONG BEACH — At the South Division Community Leadership meeting on Thursday, April 26, Long Beach Police Department Commander John Benedetti spoke to community leaders and concerned citizens about crime statistics, safety tips, and how the department is attempting to decrease crime trends while meeting the high demand for service.
“You [citizens] are the eyes and ears of the police department,” Benedetti said. “With your help we have a better idea of what is going on in the community and can address problems quickly. Never hesitate to call.”
Dressed head-to-toe in uniform and sporting numerous pins commemorating his extensive experience and achievements on the force, Benedetti spoke to the community as acting Commander of the Patrol Bureau’s Field Support Division for the last time. The meeting informed the public not only of the current work of the South Division, but that Commander Benedetti’s retirement after 32 years with the LBPD was to commence that evening.
Having served on all four bureaus of the LBPD, including the East and North Patrol Divisions, SWAT, and the Internal Affairs Division, Benedetti tackled each citizen’s question during a public “Question and Answer” forum. Whether it was a driver concerned about the inattentive bikers who repeatedly cruise outside designated bike lanes, or a Spanish-speaking woman worried the previous tenant of her new residence was still accessing her apartment, Benedetti utilized the meeting to emphasize the importance of communication between the LBPD and the community, noting the correlation it has to decreasing the city’s crime.
Commander Benedetti insisted that in order to avoid potential crime, citizens must always lock the doors and windows of their residences and vehicles, as well as remain aware of their surroundings and suspicious activity. He noted that many petty thefts of gadgets within the South Division had occurred due to a citizen being overly consumed with their smartphone while walking down a crowded street.
“If you see something or somebody suspicious, we want you to call. We want those suspicious characters to be too afraid that we’re coming to commit any crime, and that starts with you [the public].”
The South Division of Long Beach includes the areas between Cherry Ave. and the Los Angeles River, as well as Anaheim St. to Ocean Blvd. Its borders encompass the Pacific Ocean, the fine dining and attractions of The Pike and Shoreline Village, the East Village Arts District, new-age residential developments such as CityPlace, architectural landmarks of the city skyline like the Villa Riviera, and more.
Although it is the smallest geographical division within the city, the South Division makes up the second highest volume of service calls received by the Long Beach Police Department annually. On average, it takes officers of the South Patrol Division 3.7 minutes to respond to the nearly 45,000 service calls placed within Downtown Long Beach every year.
To meet the high demand for service, the South Division works to satisfy the three core functions of the LBPD, stated on their website as “rapid response to emergency calls for service, rapid identification and response to emerging crime trends, and working together with the community to solve persistent neighborhood problems.”
Thanks to increased efforts on the part of local community members and police officers, the South Division has seen improvement in crime over the past couple years. Long-time resident of Downtown Long Beach and 80-year old Navy Veteran Art McClean says, “My neighbors and I down at the Harbor Place Tower over on Seaside noticed less crime last year, and more police presence.”
In 2011, there was a 19.4 percent decrease in murders from 2010. This is the lowest murder record since the LBPD began recording statistics. Comparing March of 2011 to March of 2012, burglaries have decreased by 6.9 percent and auto theft by 16 percent, however there was an overall increase in crime by 9.4 percent, with 2,119 crimes in 2011 compared to 2,324 crimes in 2012.
While he acknowledged crime statistics serve logistical purposes for the LBPD, Marek Dzida, Hellada Gallery owner and commissioner of the Long Beach Art Walk, says the importance of citizen’s attention to these numbers are secondary.
“Any downtown area of a city will have crime, no matter where in the world. It’s the urban environment, with tall buildings, alleyways, and lots of people on the sidewalks.”
Dzida, a Polish photographer who came to the United States in 1996 to establish his own art gallery, has helped attract thousands of visitors and residents to the streets of Downtown Long Beach through events held at Hellada Gallery over the past 16 years. With the help of city officials, fellow businesses, donors, and residents, Dzida says he hopes the stigma of downtown as a dangerous place will continue to disappear.
“Downtown is the heartbeat of a city. It’s where people come when they visit [the city] for the first time. In Long Beach, downtown has changed into a modern and bohemian-type place. I want people to see that.”