LBPD headquarters

The Long Beach Police Department headquarters at 400 W. Broadway.

Violent crime has grown during the coronavirus in Long Beach — as it has in nearly every major city in the country — and officials are committed to addressing it as part of the city’s broader recovery plan.

That was one of the messages that came out of a study session the City Council held during its Tuesday, April 20, meeting on the issue of violent crime.

During 2020, overall crime in Long Beach fell by 1.4% compared to the prior year, Police Chief Robert Luna said during the meeting, but the murder rate increased by 5.9%. And the violent crime rate in particular grew nearly 15% through March 31 of this year, Luna said, which was mostly driven by shootings.

Still, Luna emphasized that there is far less violent crime in Long Beach now than there was at the city’s peak 30 years ago. In 1991, 9,567 violent crimes were reported in the city; last year, there were 2,340.

But the more recent trends, he said, are still concerning, especially when it comes to gun possession.

Like overall crime in the city, arrests in Long Beach were also down in 2020 — by more than 20%. But firearms-related arrests were up more than 58%.

And between Jan. 1 and April 15 of this year, police officers made 177 firearm-related arrests, a 58% spike from the same time period last year, and 107 of those arrests were of people who are legally prohibited from possessing guns, which is a 55% jump from last year.

Luna said the reasons for the uptick in violent crime and gun possession are clear.

“We believe that the possible causes for these crime increases are related to the serious impacts on the criminal justice system and our community,” he said, “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Long Beach unemployment hit nearly 21% in May, while school closures and few activities for kids and teenagers “negatively impacted youth engagement,” Luna said.

The maps of shootings and firearm arrests, he noted, would likely mirror maps showing which communities have been hardest hit socially and economically.

To that end, Luna said addressing the spike in violent crime will require multiple strategies.

The Police Department, for its part, has implemented new programs to get guns off the streets and to become more involved in the neighborhoods that have been most impacted by violence.

The Neighborhood Walks pilot program, for example, has placed more officers on foot in the Washington neighborhood. The program launched in late February, but Luna said the neighborhood has already seen a 40% decrease in shootings. He said he hopes to expand the program to other areas that have been hit with high crime.

“Our police officers are absolutely making a difference,” he said. “When you put more on the street, it will prevent shootings from occurring.”

But the Police Department can’t eliminate violence all on its own. So the Health Department, Luna said, is an important partner.

And the city’s Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy spoke about many of the ways her department is also seeking to curb violence in Long Beach.

Health, housing and youth development programs can all help prevent violence, while providing counseling and support can intervene in the cycle of violence that can be common in some neighborhoods. And other programs, like a re-entry program slated to launch this summer, can offer services to people who have already been through the criminal justice system.

City Council members said Tuesday that they appreciated hearing how both departments are working to stem violent crime in Long Beach. But they also emphasized that the issue will need to continue to be a focal point for the city as it looks to reopen and rebuild from the pandemic.

“We have to be thinking about, how do we activate those high-crime places as we reopen?” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said. “As we think about where the crime has taken place, we have to connect that to our recovery strategy. It just makes sense.”

Mayor Robert Garcia agreed, though he added that violent crime is an even bigger issue than the Police and Health departments can handle on their own.

“It’s really a community-wide effort,” he said, “and I personally believe our educational institutions have by far the biggest opportunities to make impacts as it relates to community safety.”

But parks, libraries, businesses, community organizations and more, Garcia said, are also key. So to adequately address violent crime and ensure the jumps seen last year don’t continue, he said, the issue will need to remain a focal point for everyone in the months ahead.

“When we look at recovery for our community’s health, when we look at the recovery around jobs and the economy,” Garcia said, “community safety is also part of our recovery, and it has to be centered in what we’re doing.”

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