After a deadly year in which 45 people died in traffic collisions in Long Beach, the city’s Police Department says it’s changing how it responds to crashes in order to focus on enforcing traffic laws like speeding and drivers using their cell phones.
A memo from Long Beach Police Department Chief Wally Hebeish published Friday said the department will no longer send its motor officers to routine collision reports.
Those officers, which typically respond to calls after crashes are reported, will only respond to fatal collisions or collisions where drivers are suspected of being under the influence, the memo said.
The change is being made to allow those motor officers to focus on specific intersections or stretches of roadways in Long Beach that have been identified as being dangerous due to repeat traffic collisions or other persistent safety issues.
A focus will be placed on moving violations like drivers not stopping at red lights or stop signs, distracted driving, driving under the influence and certain pedestrian violations.
Over the last three years, 141 people have died in crashes, with pedestrians (27) making up the majority of the 45 people who died in 2022. A total of 5,597 traffic collisions were recorded by the department in the first 11 months of 2022; the number of collisions in December 2022 was not available.
In the first two months of 2023, another six people died in traffic collisions in the city, according to data compiled by the Post.
The department did not provide a list of areas where its officers will be focusing on enforcement, but the memo said that traffic complaints can be forwarded to a new email address set up to centralize concerns so the department can identify problematic areas.
Busy arterial streets like Pacific Coast Highway, Anaheim Street and Seventh Street accounted for 19 of the 45 deaths that happened in Long Beach last year. Some of those arterial roads are the focus of overhauls by the city to improve safety for drivers and pedestrians.
Market Street, where one pedestrian died in 2022, is getting a $12 million makeover that includes protected bike lanes, flashing pedestrian crossings and curb extensions that will shorten the distance to cross the street.
Earlier this month, the city broke ground on the “Great Boulevard” project that will transform Artesia Boulevard in North Long Beach by narrowing lanes, adding protected bike lanes and eliminating numerous unprotected left turns. Two pedestrians died on Artesia in 2022.
Other Downtown streets are in the planning stages for similar changes that could make the area safer to walk in. In December, the City Council began the process of reducing the speeds on 107 street segments in the city, with many in line to be reduced to 25 mph or slower.
In 2020, the City Council adopted a Safe Streets plan that aims to reduce traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2026. The council is expected to be updated on the progress of the city’s Safe Streets program by April.