The Long Beach Health Department and Long Beach Police Department will work together to address crime in the city via crime prevention, intervention and enforcement.
“Our challenge today is real and every single person affected is, I know for us, it’s painful and we want to see everyone completely safe,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.
Health Department Director Kelly Colopy used the analogy of upstream and downstream crime prevention, where the City builds bridges to help people avoid falling into the stream of crime.
The analogy was part of a presentation given to the Long Beach City Council at their Tuesday, April 20 meeting.
The Health Department is well-equipped to handle prevention and intervention, as their department deals with many factors that influence crime—poverty, racial disparities, substance abuse, education and many more.
One might call it a “bridge over troubled water.” The stronger the “bridge” of prevention and intervention measures, the less likely an individual is to fall into the stream of crime.
“We often spend our time and resources working to intervene when people are already struggling in the downstream. It’s the life vest,” Colopy said. “This is costly. It doesn’t address the underlying reasons they exist, so it keeps on happening and it keeps on growing, very difficult to change. The bridge that is toward the top represents upstream prevention. This bridge keeps people from falling into difficult situations.”
She noted that some “bridges” are weaker than others. Communities plagued by poverty, for example, have weaker “bridges.”
“Of course, all bridges need reinforcement,” she said. “But it’s easy to see which need the most urgent attention.”
During Police Chief Robert Luna’s presentation, he noted that the locations of shootings often overlap with areas of poverty.
“If we were to overlay this map [of shootings] with the poverty and unemployment rates, and the level of education in these areas, we believe that you will find a direct correlation between violent crimes and the social-economic factors,” Luna said.
Despite the pandemic, which spurred high unemployment levels, early prisoner releases, increased gun sales and reduced youth programming, violent crime is down citywide compared to historic levels.
The city has seen a 75% decrease in violent crime since it peaked in 1991, with 2,340 violent crime incidents in 2020. According to Luna, approximately 33% of shootings appear to be gang-related.
“I’m grateful that the crime rate of the ‘90s, of the ‘80s, of the 2000s and all of those years, that that is in our past and that we have less homicides and less violent crime than we’ve had [in the past],” Garcia said.
So far this year, there have been 142 shootings and 177 firearm-related arrests. Luna said that many of these arrests are of repeat offenders.
The police department seized 324 firearms so far this year, up from 216 last year.
But, as Colopy noted, enforcement only goes so far when it comes to overall crime reduction.
“Upstream” methods can prevent crime before it happens, saving resources and funds later on down the line.
Some of the Health Department’s prevention and intervention methods may seem simple: healthy birth outcomes, financial stability, affordable housing, early childhood education and access to healthcare.
Long Beach Advancing Peace, previously named Safe Long Beach, is focused on “increasing social connectedness and improving economic opportunities, fostering safe and healthy neighborhoods and creating trauma-informed systems […] to build a safer community,” Colopy said.
The program is currently focused on the West Long Beach Washington neighborhood, which has been particularly plagued by shootings.
What’s working so far: hitting the pavement
Though many of the Health Department’s goals focus on prevention, the Long Beach Police Department has also piloted its own intervention strategies in the neighborhood.
The “neighborhood walks” program got officers out of their cars and directly into communities most affected by violence. Police officers spent 186 hours walking through the Washington neighborhood and interacted with over 300 community members.
The result: a 40% decrease in shooting incidents from Feb. 27 to April 15.
The Health Department is dependent on grant funding for nearly all of its programs. Colopy said that, “at each effort is an unfunded mandate or grant-funded, and when the funding ends, the program ends,” making it difficult to maintain long-term prevention methods.
“This is a situation, again, where the health department has really established a leadership role in how to address any of the issues that are facing our city,” Councilmember Roberto Uranga said. “We need to continue to find ways that we can institutionalize many of the programs that they have.”
Councilmember Suely Saro suggested implementing more economic empowerment zones and employment programs to “ensure that we’re providing a really holistic approach to developing and supporting individuals, and their families, to break the cycle of poverty and transition into a place of stability and security.”
Garcia said that violence prevention is tied to the city’s broader economic recovery and that violence prevention would be a team effort of many departments.
“Prevention is not just the health department’s [or police department’s] job. As we all know, it’s embedded in the work that our library system does. It’s embedded in the work our parks system does. It’s happening at our schools,” Garcia said. “It’s really a community-wide effort.”