Long Beach’s historic neighborhood around Orizaba Park has long struggled with its crime rate, but residents this year were especially exasperated when a homeless encampment sprouted up and began operating what appeared to be a bicycle chop-shop.
Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw, whose district includes the park, said he received constant calls from fed-up residents reporting drug sales and other criminal activity.
“Neighbors leaving for work in the morning were very uneasy with people sleeping right outside their apartments and hanging out all day working on what appeared to be stolen bicycles,” he said.
While overall bike theft is on the decline in Long Beach, authorities this year said they have seen an increase in impromptu “chop-shops” that have cropped up in public spaces. In many cases, the bikes are dismantled and their parts are sold for money or drugs, authorities said.
In an effort to curb the practice, the City Council in October passed an ordinance that prohibits the sales of bicycles and bicycle parts on public property.
In Orizaba Park, Supernaw said people would hang out in the park during the day working on bikes and would then move their possessions across the street at night to private property where police couldn’t touch them.
Because of an intricacy in trespassing laws, officers’ hands were tied.
Under the law, police cannot remove someone from private property unless the owner has posted a “no trespassing” sign and has filed a request for service with the police department that allows officers to enforce laws on the property in the owner’s absence.
But residents had another resource available that is unique to Orizaba Park and just two other neighborhoods in the city: a neighborhood prosecutor.
Working out of the City Prosecutor’s office, neighborhood prosecutors focus part-time on misdemeanor crime in a specific neighborhood, working with police and following the case from start to finish.
In the past, Long Beach had neighborhood prosecutors throughout the city, but the program dissolved in budget cuts about 10 years ago, said City Prosecutor Doug Haubert.
The program is now slowly coming back.
Downtown Long Beach got a neighborhood prosecutor around 2014 with help from grant funding from the Downtown Long Beach Alliance. Last year, the Belmont Shore and Belmont Pier neighborhoods got a prosecutor through funding from Councilwoman Suzie Price’s office.
And Orizaba Park got one this year after residents asked for help with the encampment situation. Supernaw said his office funded the effort for around $20,000.
Haubert said the prosecutors focus on community issues.
“We believe a very specific and focused approach to community problems can result in significant improvement if you sustain that effort,” he said.
In this case, the prosecutor worked with police and business owners to enforce trespassing laws near Orizaba Park.
Supernaw said the bike chop-shop problem cleared up quickly once the prosecutor helped officers get permission to enforce trespassing laws even when property owners weren’t present.
Haubert said it’s an example of how the rules can be confusing in a time when officers are trying to balance enforcing certain laws and protecting the constitutional rights of those suffering through the state’s homeless crisis.
A neighborhood prosecutor can help navigate that system, he said.
*Note: This story previously incorrectly stated the timeframe for a city ordinance on bicycle sales on public property. The ordinance passed in October.
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