Long Beach has experienced a spike in crime across the board this year, Long Beach Police Department officials say, and the numbers bear them out.

One of the crimes — murders — has risen so far in 2015 compared to last year, Deputy Chief Richard Rocchi said. There were 19 last year and by the end of September this year, there were 26.

But last year’s numbers were unusual.

“Last year, violent crime was at the lowest it’s been in 42 years,” Rocchi said. “This year, we’ve seen it creep back up.”

He said he didn’t know the reason for the increase, but noted the entire country has experienced similar statistics. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, also reported an upswing in crime. From last October, there was a 12.8% increase in overall crime, including 21.3% more violent and 10.8% more property crime, LAPD’s website said.

“We’re fighting against last year’s record low,” Rocchi said. “We’ve continued to chip away at crime… But the rebound has been very concerning to us.”

Another instance of increased crime is low-level theft, or those under $950, as well as grand theft auto. Many of the under $950 thefts were done by drug users, Rocchi said, who stole to support their habit. Additionally, those who commit that type of crime now are slapped with a misdemeanor rather than a felony due to Proposition 47, which voters passed last year. The measure reduced non-serious, nonviolent drug and property crimes under $950 to misdemeanors.

“They’re released back into society and to support their habits, they continue their thefts… There are additional people in the streets who continue to support their habit,” Rocchi said.

Grand theft of automobiles is higher this year, as last year’s total was 1,533. By the end of September this year, there were 2035.

He added the LBPD was doing what it could to curtail the upswing, such as having police representatives at residents’ meetings and patrolling more proactively.

In a Belmont Shore Residents Association meeting last month, LBPD East Division Cmdr. Liz Griffin noted the crime increase, and said thieves aren’t stripping vehicles, but leaving them whole in another location. Additionally, thefts of items from vehicles occurred because thieves saw valuables inside and/or vehicles were unlocked, Griffin said.

Griffin said many of those crimes were opportunistic, but the community is doing a better job of being aware.

One community member who said he’s being aware is Terry Endersen, who attends the BSRA meetings.

“She’s very responsive to specific concerns and with specific homes in the neighborhood,” Endersen said of Griffin. “I truly feel she gives the residents the insights they need.”

Endersen noted that Griffin provided some details about assaults, current neighborhood crime trends and answered residents’ questions.

“Before they (LBPD) would do this (at least three years ago), we had experiences with people getting robbed right out of their cars,” Endersen said. “Now if something like that occurs, we hear about it within a relatively short time frame so people can be aware and cautious in those situations.”

Rocchi echoed Griffin, and said people should be more aware of their surroundings.

“Don’t hold your cell phone and look at it,” he said. “You become an easy target that way. A lot of people aren’t aware and it becomes a crime of easy opportunity.”

Ways to combat that, Rocchi said, are to walk deliberately, in pairs or groups, in well-lit areas, as well as to park in well-lit areas. When parking during daylight hours, ensure there is a light nearby if leaving after dark, he said.

Rocchi also said police officers relied on the public.

“If you see something, say something,” he said. “If you think you see suspicious activity, tell us and let us be the judge of whether it’s suspicious or not.”

He added community members should not be reluctant to talk to police.

“We would like the community to be witnesses… We rely on them to be our eyes and ears,” he said.

For more LBPD crime information, visit www.longbeach.gov/police/crime-info/crime-statistics.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com.

Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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