After a surge in shootings, City Council asks police for answers and a plan of action

The City Council on Tuesday said they want more information from the Long Beach Police Department about why shootings have surged in Long Beach over the last year.

In a unanimous vote, the council directed the police department to study the spike and come back with a report in 30 days detailing current crime trends and possible ways to address them—particularly in neighborhoods like North and Central Long Beach that have been hard hit by violence.

The study would also answer the question of whether there are correlations between last year’s crime increase and variables such as changes to the bail system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said LBPD Chief Robert Luna, who will be presenting the study to the council.

Police say zero bail, a policy that automatically sets bail at zero dollars for most misdemeanors and low-level felonies, has allowed repeat offenders to return to freedom more quickly. Police have used this policy to informally explain the surges, but other variables such as massive job losses and stay-at-home restrictions might also be factors, police say.

Luna said Tuesday night that increased crime is a phenomenon affecting the entire nation, and Long Beach shares that burden.

Year-end statistics released last month affirmed that crime in Long Beach rose in 2020. The most notable rises include violent crimes such as criminal homicides and aggravated assaults, which rose by 5.9% and 18.6%, respectively.

Gun violence, specifically, rose too, as police data obtained by the Post shows that there were 381 shootings in 2020 in comparison to an annual average of 232 shootings in each of the past four years.

Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, whose district includes the disproportionately affected Willmore and Washington neighborhoods, said she brought the agenda item to the council because she’s trying to find solutions for her residents who tell her that they live in fear.

Councilman Al Austin, whose district includes portions of North Long Beach, an area experiencing many shootings as well, said he believes that the uptick in violence is due to “prohibited possessors,” such as ex-felons and others barred from owning weapons, illegally carrying guns.

“We need to call this for what it is: This is street politics,” he said. “This is the illicit market. We have a gang culture in our city.”

Long Beach officials say they’re already taking some steps to prevent crime, particularly among youth, as means to keep them away from guns early on.

In Zendejas’ district, for example, the health department will be launching a pilot program in the Washington neighborhood that aims to reduce gun violence through things like providing case management services to foster youth who’ve had run-ins with law enforcement or sending crime intervention experts into the neighborhood. The program was originally planned to launch in January, but health department officer Ana Lopez said they are still hiring staff for the program.

Zendejas said that COVID-19 has stifled their ability to maintain programming like this, which can help reduce crime.

“The seriousness of this challenge is that we must find new solutions, renew our existing efforts to keep our communities safe and free of violence,” she said.

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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