Focusing on youth intervention and prevention was at the top of the list of tasks that resulted from last week’s first community meeting to create a concrete violence prevention plan in Long Beach.
Attendees of the community forum included community members, consultants from the National League of Cities and Long Beach city officials.
Long Beach Department of Development Services hopes to move past events and initiatives and begin getting groups, city officials, and the police all on the same page when it comes to preventing violence. Over the next 18 months, the city plans to hold more community meetings and focus groups to finalize a plan.
The community engagement schedule will be posted in the next 30 days on the city’s plan website listed at the end of this article.
Over 100 people attended the first meeting at Cesar Chavez Park last Saturday. A diverse crowd of residents attended, along with the Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, and representatives from the National League of Cities.
In Long Beach, gang homicides accounted for the majority of homicides among 15 to 24 year olds, at 69 percent. Homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The side chart to the right illustrates 2011’s murder rates in Long Beach, revealing that 24 out of 25 of homicides in the city were among young people.
“The youth are really the key ingredient here,” said Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “Too often we just roll out policies thinking about our goals without building a team and going there together.”
McDonnell’s words were not lost on Pedro Jimenez, an 18-year-old Jordan High School senior who attended the community forum.
“It feels good to participate, I know adults love to hear what teenager’s have to say.” Jimenez was once involved in gangs, but after attending the California Conference of Equality and Justice’s Building Bridges Camp for youth has become more involved in preventing violence in his community.
“I want to help kids that started out the same way as me,” said Jimenez, who was a gang-member at 15-years-old.
His story is one of many, according to city Prosecutor Doug Haubert.
“These gangs are recruiting kids as young as 12 and 13 years old,” Haubert said.
Haubert also talked about truancy and it’s status as an indicator of future criminal tendencies. “Kid’s that are truant, drop out. And kids who drop out, often join gangs,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for the police and everyone to work together to catch these problems early.”
Nearly three quarters of our state prison system inmates are high school dropouts according to Haubert.
The community of Long Beach has been affected by violence since the late 80s, but preventing it has been “piecemeal” until this year said Tracy Colunga of Neighborhood Services Bureau.
“We had done lots of stuff before, but council members Garcia, Neal, and Andrews really made this an agenda issue for City council in 2011,” Colunga said.
The City of Long Beach Department of Development Services and Neighborhood Services Bureau have created a website to publish news about the Violence Prevention Plan in the works. You can see progress on the plan and future meeting times etc. at www.LBVPP.com