Violent crime escalated in Long Beach, according to a press release in January by the Long Beach Police Department. It increased almost 19 percent since 2014, with 17 of the 36 murders last year being gang-related.
This rise was consistent across the country, with some crime statistics as high as a 40 percent jump in major cities, said Deputy Chief Richard Rocchi of the Long Beach Police Department, Patrol Bureau.
Of the violent crimes committed within the city, there were 1,055 robberies, 179 rapes and 1,484 aggravated assaults, bringing the total number to 2,718.
Deputy Chief Rocchi pointed out that, although violent crime had risen, crime overall declined.
“Although the increase can look like a large amount, it can be misleading,” Rocchi said, “because in 2014, Long Beach saw the lowest crime rate in 42 years.”
In fact, crime rates in the last decade are lower than they were in the late ‘70s through the ‘80s, and significantly lower than 1990, when violent crime rates soared: there were 104 murders, 4,421 aggravated assaults and 7,137 grand theft auto charges in Long Beach that year alone.
But in 1991, crime plummeted, continuing to slope downward into the new millennium. Experts like Thomas Marvell and Carlisle Moody, who wrote the 1996 article “Specification Problems, Police Levels and Crime Rates,” credited this drop to innovative police strategies and increased incarcerations.
And while the LBPD continued to initiate preventative strategies, especially geared toward youths, such as monitoring school attendance and working with the Parks and Recreation Department to survey parks at night, Chief Robert Luna said that new legislation, including Proposition 47, AB 109 and Proposition 36 had a negative impact on their efforts. Because these legislations reduce sentences, he said, it leaves “more offenders on the street.”
Proposition 47, the most recent measure, was passed by California voters in 2014. This legislation reclassified most nonviolent, non-serious crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor and challenged sentences for those imprisoned under the original regulations.
While the outcome is yet to be measured beyond its first year, Proposition 47 has already released some 4,000 people back into the public with only a 5 percent return-to-custody rate, much lower than the 42 percent in 2013.
“Crime rates of any kind can be challenging to interpret,” said Robert Schug, assistant director of criminal justice and forensic psychology at Cal State Long Beach. “And there may be additional politics in play.”
He said that some criticisms of AB 109 derive from the new interpretation of what is considered “nonviolent.”
“It could be that some of these violent offenders that were formerly in prison (now classified as nonviolent) have now hit the streets of Long Beach and thus we see an increase in the stats,” Schug said. “Of course that is only speculative, [in order to measure the increase] we would need to see who is getting arrested for violent offenses now and cross-reference that with the folks who were let out on AB 109.”
Although the exact ratio of these specific repeat offenders released under the new rulings is yet to be determined, the LBPD has coined a general term for those who go in and out of the system, many of whom are drug offenders.
“We call them ‘wobblers’,” Rocchi said.
He said the LBPD has seen a significant increase in petty theft. These “wobblers,” he said, are often caught stealing to support their habit. And since these are nonviolent crimes, offenders are given citations instead of jail time.
“There’s not even a wobbler anymore, [in this situation,] it’s just a straight misdemeanor,” Rocchi said. “So there is no longer jail sentences as incentive for them to go into a treatment program. And if they don’t go into a program, then there’s still no jail time.”
It is still unclear if the new legislation will have lasting, positive effects, but the portion of the state’s budget that would be spent on prison inmates can now be allotted to other expenses, such as community health and public education.
Certain Long Beach jurisdictions stand to receive thousands in saved incarceration costs from the state, through the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, but the city has yet to see that return, according to Rocchi.
According to a February 2015 report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the savings are estimated to exceed $100 million statewide.
Rocchi said these funds would go toward preventative and rehabilitation programs to strengthen the changing community, something the LBPD plans to implement alongside existing strategies to combat the rise in crime.
Deputy Chief Rocchi urges the timeliness of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign, citing the community as a huge support to the LBPD’s efforts.
“We want to be proactive, not reactive,” he said.
Although the police force and its partners continue their efforts to combat crime, Chief Luna said that he still expects crime to continue to rise throughout the year.