Violent crime is down in Long Beach, but police frustrated with criminal reoffenders

Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune
In this 2018 file photo, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna (right) and Mayor Robert Garcia (left) announced during a press conference Jan. 3 that in 2017, the city saw the lowest murder rate in nearly 50 years. Luna also said that end-of-year data show 2017 saw a 7.1-percent decrease of overall crime when compared to 2016.

Top brass with the Long Beach Police Department stated during a public safety meeting last month that data collected as of July indicated that crime has dropped 6.7% citywide when compared to numbers from last year.

Long Beach Chief of Police Robert Luna also said that violent crime was down 12%.

“That’s miraculous,” Luna said.

Although crime has gone down citywide, Luna said he has received messages from concerned residents who said they see reported criminal incidents rising all over social-media sites.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Wait a minute. I’m reading about something on Nextdoor [a neighborhood-sharing social media website] that says this is going crazy,'” Luna said. “When I was commander up here [in the north district], I was struggling with a dozen or 14 murders in the year I was up here. That’s about what we have in the entire city today.”

The chief said that although crime is down, a rising trend in crimes committed by reoffenders citywide is apparent.

Luna said that he is looking to present multiple cases to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office (DA) and the Long Beach Court of suspects who he believes should be behind bars.

“I have at least a dozen [examples] right now of individuals who should not be in our community because they keep on reoffending,” he said.

Luna said that suspects who have been arrested for other crimes in the past and are detained by authorities for certain crimes do not cooperate with police investigations.

He cited one incident that occurred last month north of 45th Street and Atlantic Boulevard involving an individual who was shot in a vehicle.

“I’d like to tell you where he was shot, but you know what? He won’t tell us,” Luna said. “He will not cooperate with us.”

The chief said that the suspect was on parole for using a firearm and was released. He was then arrested three times prior to the shooting that took place last month, Luna said.

“Three different times, he didn’t stay in jail,” Luna said. “What do you think this guy is going to do after he gets out of the hospital if he doesn’t want to cooperate with us?”

Robert Smith, LBPD commander of the Gang and Violent Crimes Division and deputy chief of the Investigations Bureau, was present during the Aug. 27 community meeting. He told the Signal Tribune during a phone call Tuesday evening that he is working to schedule a meeting with the DA and court representatives to discuss the chief’s concerns.

Smith clarified the meeting the chief wants to have with the DA and the court focuses on exploring “enhanced-prosecution” methods for reoffending criminals.

“I’m actually setting up that meeting with the district attorney’s office,” he said. “The meeting is more or less about opportunities between the police department and the prosecutor’s office for opportunities for enhanced prosecution in regards to repeat offenders.”

Smith said that the police wants to explore all its options when conducting criminal investigations, and he hopes the DA and the court can provide insight.

Some investigations have revealed that suspects who have been detained and released from their cases are reoffending or involved in other crimes, Smith said.

Although the meeting has not yet been scheduled, Smith said the specific topics they will discuss involve illegal firearms and violent crimes.

Smith said that criminal investigations are more successful when the public communicates with police and reports suspicious behavior.

Luna criticized the state’s criminal-reform laws during the Aug. 27 meeting, but added that he understands social-justice reform have brought positive results.

“I think it did some good things,” he said, “but it also did some bad things. And I want to make those corrections.”

Crime-reform impact
In recent years, criminal-reform laws in California have experienced a bumpy road as the state’s tone toward crime has changed over time.

Dr. Jason Whitehead, associate professor with Cal State Long Beach’s Department of Political Science, spoke with the Signal Tribune Wednesday morning about the impact criminal reform has had on local law enforcement.

He said that California took a tough stance on crime in the 1990s, but over the last few years, voters have approved laws that lessen the severity of some convictions.

“In California, especially, to get tough on crime and to clean up the streets and to make sure that repeating offenders were sentenced more harshly you get the ‘three-strikes rule,'” he said.

This aggressive take on crime saw a massive intake of criminals to the state’s prison system, Whitehead said. Although a suspect may have committed a small crime, such as stealing a video tape or a slice of pizza, as long as it was their third strike, the suspect potentially faced 25 years to life in prison.

“You get a prison system in California that became seriously overcrowded–– to the point where in the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Plata you see some descriptions of horrible conditions where prisoners aren’t able to get any kind of adequate medical care or psychiatric care or several inmates sharing a small toilet. Just horrible conditions of overcrowding in the prisons.”

Reports of jail overcrowding and inmates sharing small, often unlivable quarters prompted the state to do something about its stance on crime, and the aggressive tone gradually began to change.

In 2011, the Supreme Court mandated that California had to reduce its jail population. Whitehead said the prison population was almost at 200% capacity. The court’s ruling stated the state had to reduce the population to 137.5% of its designed capacity.

In the years after that, Whitehead said about 60% of voters began to approve more laws that realigned California’s stance on certain crimes, such as AB 109, which transferred the responsibility of monitoring released prisoners over to the state’s local counties.

“In Los Angeles County that exacerbates this problem of a revolving door in the county’s prison system,” he said.

Another law voters passed was Proposition 36 in 2016, which modified the three-strikes law by only charging offenders a life sentence if the third strike committed was a violent crime.

Whitehead said there is a controversial argument about whether or not criminal-reform laws have caused an uptick in crime. He said police chiefs from across Los Angeles and Orange Counties have argued that their methods are being curtailed by recent reform laws.

Whitehead cited a study from the University of Irvine, which stated that criminal-reform laws had not caused the increase in crime statewide, but he said authorities at a local level possibly experienced different findings.

“I think the main thing in Long Beach is you have to be sensitive to the reality that police have to deal with on a daily basis, so I wouldn’t want to discount the chief’s complaints about certain repeat offenders,” Whitehead said. “But I’m concerned about allowing anecdotes to drive a public policy conversation, which I feel is what’s happening. It’s hard to generalize from individual crimes to a larger issue like criminal-justice reform.”

Subscribe for local news now!

* indicates required