Long Beach has been fighting a spike in gun violence since late last year, with police pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into increased patrols and operations to take illegal weapons off the streets, but the issue got a renewed focus Saturday night when gunfire rang out at The Pike, wounding three people at the popular shopping center where crowds were packed into stores and restaurants.
“It’s scary, just to be blunt with you,” Police Chief Robert Luna told camera crews at the scene before pointing out Long Beach is not alone in having gun violence suddenly thrust into the fore.
Crime in the U.S. has recently been catapulted to a top-of-the-agenda issue, with President Joe Biden promising more support for many cities battling a surge in gun violence and killings.
In the first quarter of 2021, homicides collectively soared from 1,337 to 1,721—an increase of almost 30%—in 63 large U.S. cities, according to a survey from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which is a professional organization for law enforcement leaders in the U.S. and Canada.
Long Beach, however, was an outlier in that category. Although the city’s overall crime rate rose 11% during that period, murders bucked the trend and actually decreased. A rash of eight shooting deaths so far in June has since erased that decline, but the city still has not seen a surge in slayings on par with most other major cities. Long Beach recorded 18 murders through June last year, one fewer than the 19 total so far this year.
Saturday’s shooting at The Pike left one of the three victims in critical condition, but at this point, nobody was fatally wounded.
“It absolutely could’ve been much worse,” Luna said. “We’re thankful that it wasn’t.”
It’s unclear if the three people wounded—a 23-year-old man, an 18-year-old man and a 13-year-old boy outside a Hooters restaurant—were the intended targets. Police have not released details on any possible motive for the attack.
After the gunfire, the department quickly pulled over a car carrying the three suspected assailants, something the chief credited in part to officers already being in the area working overtime.
Since shootings began spiking late last year, Luna’s department launched operations across the city aimed at seizing illegal guns through searches and deterring violence by having officers stationed in hotspots for gun crime.
After a high in January, the gunfire began to decline, but the number of shootings reported in the first four months of 2021 was still double the prior year.
Police haven’t yet provided statistics for May or June.
Monday, Mayor Robert Garcia appeared to push for more to be done, calling The Pike shooting “horrific.”
“As a community, we must come together to take on crime—but also to understand how important prevention, education, mental health, and public services are to neighborhood safety,” he said in a statement.
It’s not clear what that would look like in practice. Garcia and police declined interview requests Monday but promised to provide more information including an update on crime statistics through June.
“Over the next few days and weeks, we will have a clearer overview of crime stats for the last six months to compare them to last year,” he said in the statement.
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