The second North Long Beach Assembly of the year was held at Good Tiding’s Church on Saturday with 8th District Councilmember Al Austin, 9th District Councilmember Steve Neal, Commander Robert Luman and City Prosecutor Doug Haubert all speaking to the crowded room about community goals, at-risk youth, program innovations, upcoming events and positive impacts.

From Bixby Knolls to College Square, community groups, leaders from neighborhood associations and district sponsors were all in attendance, eager to hear about what’s to come on the north side.

With summer approaching and kids now out of school, central to many of the speakers’ presentations was announcing efforts to ensure that at-risk youth do not fall into gangs, drugs or other negative habits—concerns made even more valid by the fact that Jordan High School’s summer school has been cut and the area has seen what Austin noted is a rise in youth shootings this year.

Indeed, both districts represented at the meeting have seen several shootings and homicides since January, some of which remain unresolved. In response to concerns about these incidents, Commander Luman noted that violent crime overall was down in the city last year and that though there is an increase in property crimes, it is a citywide issue and not only one in the north.

“Public safety in North Long Beach does not fall solely only on the Police Department, but [also] on the Councilmembers, on the City Prosecutor’s Office, the Health Department, community leaders and residents,” Luman said. “With good people all working together, [we] can swim against the stream to drive down crime.”

For Austin and Neal, youth violence in the summer can be combated by keeping parks open later and creating programs that make non-violent spaces a priority. Neal’s focus for the summer is the Be SAFE Long Beach program, which begins Friday, May 31 with a meeting focusing on a summer of non-violence, providing resources for parents and their children at Houghton Park. SAFE—which stands for Summer Activities for a Fun Environment—will run through the first week of June, ending on Saturday the 8th with the city’s first gun buyback program in more than a decade to be held at Scherer Park.

Houghton Park will also be extending its evening hours from 6PM to 9PM thanks to funding from the California Endowment. Both councilmember’s are also looking into increasing employment opportunities for youth.

“[We will be] partnering with community organizations, churches—anyone who has an interest in youths, to expand [youth] opportunities and facilitate youth employment,” Austin said.

City Prosecutor Doug Haubert also presented information from his office regarding gang injunctions, noting that vulnerable youths heading into their summer break may be targeted to join gangs.

Essentially, a gang injunction works by placing stringent sanctions on gangs inhibiting them to function. These gang members, once placed under injunction, can’t congregate with another gang member. If said member does and is caught, he or she will be arrested and prosecuted with a felony charge. Through innovation and commitment, Haubert has targeted North Long Beach gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, primarily the Sureño connection, and said his team is the first prosecuting office in the nation to set an injunction effectively on this powerful gang.

When the program started, there was no infrastructure to track Sureño and Mexican Mafia movement in Long Beach. According to Haubert, when the injunctions began in 2009 there were only 35 arrests made. As of today, however, there have been 269 arrests. Another innovation Haubert’s office has used to control gangs is the opt-out program. The opt-out program allows an opportunity for gang members to change their lives around and to disband their injunction.

The opt-out process is a four-step process, he explained. Changed gang members must be enrolled full-time in school or work, must perform community service, must totally disaffiliate from gang, and must obtain two sponsorships from community leaders.

{loadposition latestnews}Though he says his office has made strides with its gang injunctions and Diversion Program—which has added 21,000 voluntary service hours to keep first-time offenders from heading to back to jail by sentencing them to clean-up duty—Haubert also gave credit to LBPD for their proactivity in the north.

“Chief McDonnell and Commander Luman are showing real leadership being so proactive and accessible to the public,” he said. “With dwindling resources, they know the only way to fight crime is to engage the public. All of LBPD is doing that, and it is not just good for building community partnerships, but it is a smart public safety strategy.”

The North Long Beach Assembly meetings are held quarterly and reflect cohesive leadership and continued cooperation between uptown’s two councilmember’s. Neal and Austin have been long time co-visionaries, pulling upon their friendship and passion for strengthening community in North Long Beach—energy that is reflected in the well-attended joint meetings. 

“Communication is key in any relationship, especially between two councilmembers who are in sync with vision and policy,” said Austin.

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