Officials say don’t use NextDoor.com in lieu of calling 9-1-1

At well attended safety meeting, residents express frustration over recent crimes.

Seventh+District+Long+Beach+Councilmember+Roberto+Uranga+%28center%29+addresses+a+full+house+of+attendees+during+a+May+2+public-safety+meeting+at+the+Miller+Family+Health+Education+Center.+Uranga%E2%80%99s+office+organized+the+meeting+in+response+to+concerns+regarding+recent+burglaries%2C+an+assault+and+potential+acts+of+arson+in+the+California+Heights+neighborhood.
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Officials say don’t use NextDoor.com in lieu of calling 9-1-1

Seventh District Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga (center) addresses a full house of attendees during a May 2 public-safety meeting at the Miller Family Health Education Center. Uranga’s office organized the meeting in response to concerns regarding recent burglaries, an assault and potential acts of arson in the California Heights neighborhood.

Seventh District Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga (center) addresses a full house of attendees during a May 2 public-safety meeting at the Miller Family Health Education Center. Uranga’s office organized the meeting in response to concerns regarding recent burglaries, an assault and potential acts of arson in the California Heights neighborhood.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Seventh District Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga (center) addresses a full house of attendees during a May 2 public-safety meeting at the Miller Family Health Education Center. Uranga’s office organized the meeting in response to concerns regarding recent burglaries, an assault and potential acts of arson in the California Heights neighborhood.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Seventh District Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga (center) addresses a full house of attendees during a May 2 public-safety meeting at the Miller Family Health Education Center. Uranga’s office organized the meeting in response to concerns regarding recent burglaries, an assault and potential acts of arson in the California Heights neighborhood.

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A recent rash of crimes in the California Heights neighborhood clearly has many of its residents concerned.

At the beginning of the May 2 public-safety meeting at the Miller Family Health Education Center, organizers had to remove a divider between two rooms to make one larger space, in order to accommodate the overflowing crowd that showed up that evening.

Although the collective demeanor of the roughly 150 residents in attendance was initially calm, the atmosphere became more heated during the event, as people became increasingly vocal in expressing their frustrations over what they should do– and what they expect city officials to do– to address the recent spike in criminal activity in their area.

Seventh District Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga’s office called the community meeting in response to an outpouring of concern by residents regarding a recent series of break-ins, a number of alley fires that caused property damage and the deaths of several domesticated rabbits and birds, and an incident in which an auto-burglary suspect used a knife to threaten a man holding a baby after the man confronted him. All incidents occurred in the California Heights neighborhood, which is part of the 7th district.

According to city officials and residents at the event, there has been much discourse about the incidents on social media, in particular, on NextDoor.com, a website that connects people who live in the same neighborhood.

“I really appreciate the fact that you are talking to each other, whether it’s on social media […] Facebook, NextDoor, whatever, it’s a good thing,” Uranga told the crowd. “But there’s nothing that replaces a good opportunity to catch a perpetrator and call the police department. So, always remember– you might want to share your news or share whatever is happening in your neighborhood through those social-media [platforms], but nothing works much better than calling the police direct. 9-1-1 will always get you there.”

Uranga remarked that the police department keeps records of 9-1-1 calls, which helps it track areas of increased activity.

“If they get a significant number of calls in one area, they know that there’s something going on over there, and then the commander can use his personnel to either staff it a little better or [adjust] shift changes or whatever he needs to do to ensure that the community and the neighborhoods are safe,” Uranga said.

He also stressed that residents should call 9-1-1 any time they witness someone who appears suspicious or may be “casing the neighborhood,” but he warned that confrontations should be left to law-enforcement.

“Please, please do not confront the individuals,” he urged, “because that just puts you in a dangerous situation. Call 9-1-1 and let the police handle it.”

Long Beach Police Department North Patrol Division Commander Steve Lauricella was also at the meeting, and he opened his remarks by discussing general crime statistics in the area. He said the two main challenging areas for police in the North Division have been garage and commercial-storage burglaries.

“I don’t know if you’ve looked at our quarterly stats,” Lauricella said, “but [there has been] a slight uptick in property crimes in the first quarter, and those are being driven mostly by garage burglaries.”

The commander explained that part of the reason for the rise in those crimes is that residents are leaving their garages open, which allows potential perpetrators to view what is inside them.

He said his division is addressing both issues and that he expects to see continued positive results.

“I think you’ll see, when the next quarterly stats come out, we’re going to be in a better place,” he said. “So, we’re making some progress.”

However, he emphasized that law-enforcement cannot access NextDoor.com, so residents should not use that website in lieu of calling the police regarding crimes.

Lauricella then mentioned the threat incident, which occurred on Orange Avenue and 36th Street last month, indicating that police, at the time of the meeting, did not have a great deal of information, except that the suspect was a male who wore a hoodie, brandished a firearm and stole property.

“We’ve got our direct-enforcement team, our patrol officers, all aware– they’re working it. The case is up in [the] investigations [department] now,” he said. “We just touched base with Detective Hubbard, up in [the] robbery [department]. He’s working the case the best he can, communicating with the victim. Some of the property has been recovered, and they continue to follow investigative leads.

But the good news is this is the first armed robbery in over two years in this area, and robbery statistics for our division […] if you look at crime stats, we’re down double digits this year, over a double-digit decline last year. So, we’re doing well there, but that does not diminish the importance or the magnitude of what happened. We have resources working on that case.”

One attendee asked Lauricella if it appears that homeless individuals are the ones committing the crimes. The commander replied that the homeless population is not the single driver of crime. He added that the LBPD has changed its approach to addressing problems with homeless individuals– instead of simply arresting them, officers will attempt to find them assistance.

“We’re now a health department-driven model,” he said. “So, what that means is we’re trying to connect with men and women who are experiencing homelessness, and we’re trying to get to the underlying cause– if it’s mental health, if it’s addiction [or] some other issue– and then we’re trying to plug them into services.”

He explained that, if homeless individuals refuse assistance but commit crimes, then the department is compelled to use an enforcement approach and arrest them. Otherwise, if they are merely living on the streets and leaving trash behind, for example, officers will attempt to help them rather than arrest them.

Although officials assured attendees that all the recent crimes are being investigated and encouraged them to call 9-1-1 to report any future incidents, residents who spoke out during the meeting voiced their frustrations with lagging response times or no responding officers at all when they do call.

As people became more angry and began interrupting officials and each other, one outspoken woman in the crowd managed to break the hubbub to summarize the source of the exasperation.

“Everybody, we do need to calm down,” she said. “This is not going to solve anything, [by] getting heated. But I do want to reiterate that, for the last 40 minutes, it’s been a round and round and round without solutions. I recently moved to this neighborhood under the premise of it being a safe and wonderful community, and it really is. But there is someone harming our community, and I keep getting the runaround every time we talk to our officials that are supposed to be protecting and serving our community.”

Robert Cheng, captain of the Long Beach Fire Department Arson Investigation Unit, restated that the fires are being actively investigated and, therefore, information is being released judiciously.

“We’ve been working with those that have been victimized from this incident,” Cheng said. “We’re gathering information, and we have an ongoing investigation. We’re not going to disseminate information that we have prematurely, because that wouldn’t be fair and we don’t want to send out misinformation, because that would be equally as bad.”