chief luna 2017

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna talks about 2016 crime statistics and plans for 2017.

There were three fewer murders in 2016 than in 2015 in Long Beach, but total violent crime increased by 3.5% in the same period.

Mayor Robert Garcia and Police Chief Robert Luna released the 2016 crime statistics Monday. Garcia used the press conference to announce that

the Bloomberg Foundation-financed iTeam would be focused on public safety for the next 18 months.

Luna said that police calls for service jumped 13,000, or 6.6%, since passage of Proposition 47 — legislation dropping some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and releasing prisoners early. Garcia noted that even with the impact of Prop. 47, Long Beach crime as a whole was flat in 2016, with fewer property crimes.

“Homicides were down 8.3% (33 versus 36 in 2015),” Garcia said. “We’ve been working hard to stem that spike… For the first time in a decade, we are increasing the number of cops on the force.”

That increase was due to a newly passed sales tax hike. The City Council approved adding nine positions in the 2017 fiscal year budget, allowing the South Division to be reconstituted.

Luna said that increase and more is needed to deal with the Proposition 47 impacts.

“It isn’t just the 13,500 prisoners that were released,”

Luna said. “It’s also those that

we can’t put back in… There have been unintended consequences to Prop. 47, including

an increase in homelessness.”

According to the figures released Monday, violent crime increased primarily due to an increase in robbery cases, from 1,055 in 2015 to1,138 last year. Rapes were up slightly (195 from 179) while aggravated assault was flat.

Total property crimes were down 0.5%, with fewer commercial burglaries and bike thefts, but more petty thefts under $50. There also was a significant increase in arsons, with 89 in 2016 compared to 56 in 2015.

Comparisons of 2016 to a five-year average are more stark. There, homicides were up 12.2% and total violent crime is up 10.2%. Total crime is up 7.2%; 17,144 compared to an average of 15,999.

Luna and Garcia said there would be a continued emphasis on more officers on the street, thanks largely to the increased sales tax. Plans now are for that money to pay for a dedicated Police Academy staff, eliminating the need to pull officers off patrol to teach classes.

Better use of technology will be the other half of the equation for improving public safety, Garcia said. He introduced the new director of the city’s Innovation Team, Tracy Colunga, and said the team would shift its focus from economic development to public safety for the next 18 months.

“We will focus on a user-centered design model,” Colunga said. “We’ll invite the community to sessions to get their input. The focus will be in three areas — better use of technology, data driven policing and engaging the community.”

Luna also addressed how he and the department are dealing with officer-involved shootings. There have been two shootings resulting in the suspect’s death already this year.

“One thing I want to say about officer-involved shootings is that the focus is on when officers shoot,” Luna said. “In the majority of our calls, 99.9%, officers are able to handle it safely and de-escalate the situation.

“Every shooting is analyzed individually, and we focus on training. We recently received a $400,000 grant to buy a simulator for the academy to work on situations.”

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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