Pilot program aims to reduce gun violence, starting with the Washington neighborhood

Long Beach will be launching a pilot program early next year in an attempt to reduce gun violence in areas experiencing high crime, starting with the Washington neighborhood near Downtown Long Beach.

The city’s Health and Human Services Department spearheaded the program, called Long Beach Activating Safe Communities, after receiving $1.1 million in state grant funding.

The program plans to enlist a community-based organization to send out crime intervention experts into the community. These experts, called “interventionists,” would be adults who have social working skills and also carry “lived experiences” of being former victims of violence—which is vital to building trust with youth surrounded by violence, said Ana Lopez, a health department officer working on this program.

“This is a person that can say, ‘I can relate to you,'” Lopez said. “They (youth) are gonna listen to someone they trust.”

Under this program, Lopez said that ideally, interventionists would work alongside police officers by showing up to crime scenes or victims’ homes, interviewing them and their parents to find out why the crime occurred and assess what kind of specific resources, such as mental health counseling, they would need to heal from a traumatic experience. The protocol, however, has yet to be officially established, she said, but will come into fruition after the program launches.

While the number of interventionists has not been determined, Lopez said that she is hoping they come from a local organization that knows the Washington neighborhood and is culturally competent when interacting with youth and their families.

The Washington neighborhood, the program’s starting point, has been identified by the Long Beach Police Department as having one of the highest concentrations of firearm assaults, contributing 40% of the city’s firearm assaults and murders in 2018, according to a city memo about the program.

Just in the past Sunday, a man was shot in a drive-by in the neighborhood as he was walking on Pacific Coast Highway and Locust Avenue.

Another way to prevent crime is to build social connections with neighbors, Lopez said, which is why they plan on having program members reference crime statistics and door-knock on blocks experiencing higher levels of crimes and asking residents to join program-led events—all with the hope of having an engaged community.

“Think about it: if you know your neighbor for a long time, they’re kinda gonna watch out for you,” she said.

According to the city memo, other specific aspects of the program include:

  • Providing case management services to at least 30 foster youth who have interacted with a law enforcement agency, such as being cited, on probation, diverted out of a program, or interactions with police, according to Lopez
  • Giving life coaching and mentoring to at least 75 marginalized youth through Pacific Gateway’s Success Track Program
  • Hosting quarterly events that engage at least 700 residents to strengthen community connectedness, safety and well-being
  • Supporting the Be Safe Program and the Seaside and 14th Street parks by engaging at least 300 youth and families

Lopez, who is helping with the program, said they are working “to find a different pathway” for youth, who are surrounded by crime.

For now, she said officials are working with the Washington Neighborhood Association, Washington Middle School, Habitat for Humanity, Centro CHA, other partners and the residents of this neighborhood to raise awareness of the program. Given that many of the residents primarily speak Spanish, Lopez said her team is equipped with bilingual speakers and are communicating with residents with Spanish or ensuring that any English communication is also translated.

Officials plan to launch the program in January in hopes of reducing gun violence by 20% in the Washington neighborhood alone by June 2023. If the program is successful, Lopez said they will spread their work in other parts of the city in need.

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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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