Long Beach crime graph

A graph shows crime in Long Beach.

Tackling Long Beach’s rise in crime last year is on the minds of local officials — even though it’s not the worst the city has seen.

In 2015, property crime increased 15.4%, while violent crime went up 18.8% for an overall crime increase of 15.9% from 2014.

However, the numbers are about the same as those in 2011, which is low compared to historical crime statistics, a release from the city manager’s office said. For instance, crime in the early 1990s was higher (see graph).

“When you look at the increases compared to other years, we’re doing well,” Richard Rocchi, Long Beach deputy police chief, said.

He added that the city began 2015 with the lowest rate for violent crime in 42 years and the lowest murder rate since police started keeping records.

The spike came mostly from aggravated assaults, up 18.9%, and from auto thefts, with a 30% increase for grand theft and 9.3% for auto burglary. Murder also rose 56.5%, and 17 of the 36 murders in 2015 were gang-related.

Other crimes, such as residential and commercial burglaries, decreased when compared to 2014. Residential burglary dropped 11%, garage burglary was down 7.2%, commercial burglary saw a 12.1% drop and arson was 8.2% lower.

Possible Causes

The increases aren’t unique to Long Beach — the same trends were seen statewide, Rocchi said, pointing to legislation for the possible cause. Laws, such as Proposition 47, Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 36, reduced prison and jail populations and dropped certain felonies to misdemeanors, putting more offenders on the street.

Although it was too early to know the cause for increases in violent crime and property crime, Rocchi said Proposition 47 reclassified commercial property crime, allowing those who stole less than $950 per incident to receive petty theft misdemeanors. He also said the proposition allowed them not to be charged with prior convictions.

“You can go in and commit theft multiple times and not receive a felony,” Rocchi said.

Rocchi also said there were more drug addicts on the streets, paying for their habits with robberies and burglaries. Thanks to Proposition 47, they don’t receive felonies for possession of certain drugs, he added.

Other crime spikes, such as shootings, might have occurred outside the city, but were recorded by Long Beach police because they were reported here, Rocchi said.

Local officials echoed Rocchi.

“Police chiefs across the state are concerned about these crime increases,” Police Chief Robert Luna said in a statement. “With these increases across the region, experts are currently debating the correlation between spikes in crime and legislative changes… These changes are viewed as having a negative impact on our ability to manage crime and without additional county and state support for alternatives to incarceration, criminal activity is expected to continue to rise.”

Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, a deputy district attorney in Orange County, also chimed in.

“The crime stats are troubling, especially in the area of theft-related crimes,” Price said. “As a prosecutor, I am aware that this is a statewide trend. I believe that several recent initiatives and policy changes regarding certain crimes have resulted in people who need help with addiction not receiving that help because there is no longer a court-supported incentive to seek such assistance. This change in policy is detrimental for everyone, including the person who needs the treatment. Officers are seeing more and more drug addicted offenders and this is a troubling trend for our society. Until we are able to once again incentivize treatment, the problem will continue to grow.”

Possible Solutions

Price said more police officers are needed.

“Our police department is currently understaffed to address these rapidly-growing challenges,” Price said. “In my opinion, this is the beginning of a multi-year negative trend that can only be curtailed through mandated rehabilitation and more patrol officers to deter criminal activity. Our ability to mandate treatment under current state laws (post-Prop. 47) is limited. But, our ability to seek ways to hire more officers is something we do have control over. This problem needs our attention now — it cannot wait.”

First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez said the city hasn’t done enough to keep up with the trend.

“The increase in violent crime is especially alarming,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve done a good job with safety in Long Beach, but we need to do better.”

Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson congratulated the city for its work so far, but also said more needs to be done.

“We’ve done a lot in recent years with the concept of doing more with less,” Richardson said. “But there are forces in the country that are out of our control… If we’re going to keep a lid on crime, we’ve got to talk about better funding for the police department. We’ve got to double down on violence prevention and make sure the whole city does its part.”

Gonzalez said beefing up Safe Long Beach, the city’s violence prevention plan, would help. The plan was adopted by the City Council in May 2014 to reduce all forms of violence by 2020, including domestic abuse, child abuse, hate crimes, gang violence, bullying and violent crime, by using existing assets. The plan has received more than $2 million in grants, including $529,000 from two U.S. Department of Justice grants, which it accepted in November 2015.

Gonzalez said she’d like to find more grants and see what city funds are available to use toward the plan.

Gonzalez also noted the addition last year of neighborhood watches in her district, as well as 18 security cameras, which were successful at deterring crime.

“Those meetings were really well attended,” Gonzalez said.

About 30 or 40 residents were there, she said. She added she’d like to see neighborhood watches in other areas hit hard with violence, as well as double down efforts in the Craftsman and West Side areas.

Gonzalez mentioned she’d discuss ways to decrease crime at an upcoming council meeting, as well as ask the city’s Health Department to address a rising demographic of homeless people who abused drugs and committed burglaries.

Richardson and Gonzalez said they wanted to tackle crime with a more coordinated effort among entities such as schools, parks and libraries, to provide programs for youth as an alternative to gang activity.

“There needs to be more peripheral services in place,” Gonzalez said.

In the First District, Gonzalez said more park programs are being offered this year, not just during the summer.

“They need more opportunities versus getting into trouble,” Gonzalez said.

The Innovation Team, which focuses on high tech, also could offer ways for youth to engage, she said.

“It could be a good diversion for them versus going into a gang,” Gonzalez said. “We need to put the pieces together.”

For more crime statistics, go to http://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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