LBPD officers stroll the streets to build trust, relationships in Washington neighborhood

At least a half dozen Long Beach police officers fanned out on foot along the streets of the Washington neighborhood Tuesday morning, asking residents in Spanish and English what they need—or simply how they’re doing.

One officer handed Erlina Morales, 77, a sheet of paper listing city resources. Morales, who lives in a vehicle parked near Seaside Park, said she plans to visit an office with hopes of finding housing.

Another officer gave a grandmother in a nearby apartment complex a superhero cape with the words “LBPD” written on it.

These interactions, along with more upcoming activities yet to be announced by police, are part of a pilot program called Neighborhood Walks, which the police department launched this month to try to build stronger relationships with the people living and working in the area.

Erlina Morales speaks with a police officer during a Neighborhood Walks patrol in the Washington neighborhood in Long Beach on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. The officers are participating in Neighborhood Walks, a pilot program the Long Beach Police Department launched in March 2021. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Emily Garcia, a police officer patrolling the area, said that they’ve always done this style of policing but now the department is highlighting it with this pilot program. Garcia grew up in Long Beach and served the LBPD for six years.

“This is different. We’re basically getting to only contact people for the good stuff,” she said.

Police are using the Neighborhood Walks program as a way to respond to a spike in gun violence and overall crime over the last year, and it’s an opportunity to combat mistrust in law enforcement by some, officials say.

The police believe that community engagement like this could also reduce crime in a neighborhood burdened by gun violence highs not seen in years.

Maria Cruz, 65, and Jose Cruz, 68, said that they had people burglarize their home twice, for example, and hearing gunshots in the neighborhood is common.

“It’s good to try to have a good relationship (with police), but not all police are the same,” Jose said in Spanish, expressing both optimism and hesitancy when interacting with police.

Maria, who has a relative serving as a police officer, said that she looks forward to better relationships with police.

Maria Cruz speaks with police officers after they visit her during Neighborhood Walks patrol in the Washington neighborhood in Long Beach on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. The officers are participating in Neighborhood Walks, a pilot program the Long Beach Police Department launched in March 2021. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

While people in the Washington neighborhood might think it’s nice that police are trying to engage the community with the residents, when it comes to talking about violent crime, such as potential suspects for shootings, they hold their tongue.

One resident who declined to share his name for fear of retaliation from gangs, said that they can’t tell police about everything because they or their family might be targeted for sharing too much information.

“The people are not gonna talk,” the man said in Spanish.

Instead, residents say they want police to focus on solving other issues in the neighborhood that impact quality of life, such as trash, public drug use and sex and people experiencing homelessness who populate the neighborhood’s parks.

Maria Menso, 52, who takes care of her friend’s daughter while she’s at work, said that the girl just wants to go and play at the park but can’t because it’s not safe.

Officer Ashley Van Holland finishes interaction with corner store owner Jong Park in the Washington neighborhood in Long Beach on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. The officers are participating in Neighborhood Walks, a pilot program the Long Beach Police Department launched in March 2021. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Menso, who’s lived in the area for five years, added that she constantly picks up trash outside of the apartment she shares with her friend.

“We want to live in peace,” she said in Spanish.

She sympathized with people experiencing homelessness and thinks the solution includes more spaces of refuge for them.

For now, police and people in the area remain hopeful of the program’s impact. If the program is successful in reducing crime, police say they might expand the program to other parts of the city experiencing high levels of crime.

Neighborhood Walks will run until May 1.

“We are here to let them know that there are other options instead of just letting them figure it out on their own,” officer Garcia 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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