To address mounting concerns about crime and homelessness in Downtown, city leaders say they’re taking a number of steps, including heightening police presence, adding more winter shelter beds, filling public spaces with more community activities and launching a van that will offer mobile mental health and substance abuse services.
Some who live or work Downtown, however, have said they’re fed up with what they see as empty promises that haven’t remedied the area’s worsening problems.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, city leaders talked at length about how multiple departments are working together to implement a “roadmap to Downtown recovery.”
But at times, they were short on details. For example, when Deputy Police Chief Gerardo Prieto was asked how many additional officers have been assigned to Downtown since an Oct. 20 assault of a woman was caught on video, he did not have a direct answer.
“I don’t have the number of officers deployed in front of me today, but I can tell you that our approach is an evidence-based approach and we use a crime analyst to guide us on where to deploy our resources,” Prieto said.
Mayor Rex Richardson did note that the police department launched a 16-member neighborhood safety bike team earlier this year that’s intended to target business districts but can be deployed to crime hot spots as needed.
As for the rest of the safety plan rollout, the city’s new mental health van will be deployed by the end of the month, and the city is working to lease 60 hotel rooms (funded by a $5.3 million state grant to clear homeless encampments) to serve as interim housing, officials said.
The Downtown plan also says the city is ramping up efforts to bring more businesses to the area, support those that are there, and get more housing built, including some for lower-income families.
“This plan is not just about restoring our Downtown, it’s about creating a Downtown that reflects the very best of Long Beach, a place where everyone feels welcome,” Richardson said.
To some, the comments rang hollow.
Just hours before the city press conference, the woman who was sexually assaulted Downtown held her own press conference, calling for more police and stronger penalties for those who commit crimes.
“I would like to see the mayor actually follow through and really get more cops,” Rebekah Pedersen told reporters as her attorney stood by. “We also need a DA that backs the cops when they arrest these people.”
Business owners agree more needs to be done. Around the corner from the event space where the city press conference was held, employees at Italian restaurant Michael’s Downtown were cleaning up glass from their patio enclosure, which was shattered overnight.
The patio looks onto the Promenade, where Michael’s General Manager Clare Le Bras said a man was seen wielding a metal pipe last week.
“I called the police twice and a server called them once, and they never showed up,” Le Bras said.
A metal pipe was found by the glass fragments Tuesday morning.
Le Bras said Michael’s had to close its cafe because no one wanted to work morning shifts that entailed cleaning up urine, feces and trash left by people who climbed over the enclosure to sleep on the patio.
She wants the city to provide more public restrooms, but she said she expects businesses will have to turn to private security since the police don’t seem able to manage growing safety concerns.
Separately from the city’s Downtown recovery plan, City Prosecutor Doug Haubert recently announced several new or stepped-up initiatives intended to boost safety Downtown. He attended the city press conference and when asked, he briefly outlined what his office is doing.
One program offers alternatives to jail for offenders who accept mental health or substance abuse treatment, shelter or jobs. Another focuses on training Long Beach police on an app that allows them to use “stay away” orders to bar offenders who are convicted and on probation from returning to areas where they have committed crimes.
Haubert will also dedicate one of his staff to work with police to request bail and other conditions of release for certain suspects, and he plans to include Downtown in a new program that forges partnerships with residents and businesses to solve problems and address crime in their neighborhoods.