Montebello residents who want to attend a citywide Neighborhood Watch meeting will no longer have very far to go. Last week, the Montebello Police Department held their first-ever virtual Neighborhood Watch meeting on Facebook Live, bringing the community-based, crime prevention program right into residents’ homes, or wherever they access the popular social media site.
Sgt. Marc Marty, Corp. Maria Chavez and Officer Scott Howard, who make up Montebello PD’s Community Relations Unit (CRU), answered questions and addressed the concerns posted by dozens of viewers watching the live event on Feb. 8.
Sgt. Marty explained they got the idea for hosting the virtual meeting after seeing how a larger social media presence resulted in a bigger turnout at the department’s annual National Night Out event last August.
The CRU – or “crew” as they pronounce it – explained that their role is to build a better relationship with the community.
“Not that our relationship is bad, but I think we need to continue to build the dialogue,” Marty told their virtual audience last week. “This is where we start the dialogue, but we continue it when we see you out in public.”
While one of the community relations unit’s goals is to improve communications between the police department and the public, other top objectives include crime prevention and educating the public on what they can do to help officers do their job.
To that end, residents will next month have an opportunity to meet the officers in person during a Neighborhood Watch seminar March 1 at the city’s senior center. Officer Howard explained the event would provide residents with tips and tools on how to start a Neighborhood Watch on their residential block.
The department is encouraging the city’s large Spanish speaking population to attend, and has arranged to provide translation services for those who need it.
During last week’s Facebook Live Neighborhood Watch event, many of those who posted comments expressed concern over recent vehicle break-ins.
Howard attributed some of that rise to reduced jail sentences brought on by Proposition 47.
“We can’t change that, but what we can change is to help prevent the crime from happening in the first place,” he said, emphasizing the importance of checking to make sure car doors are locked and removing valuables from vehicles.
“You are one broken window away from everything being taken,” Howard reminded viewers.
Officers also answered questions about the city’s growing homeless population, speeding, double parking and 911 calls.
“We are doing our best with the man power we have,” said Marty, explaining that the department is down 17 officers. The city currently has nine open officer positions and eight current officers are either out for training or injured, he said, noting that fewer officers on duty makes their job harder.
“Those concerned that they don’t see enough officers on patrol, the truth of the matter is we don’t have a lot of officers out there,” said Marty. “Not as many as people think.”
He assured, however, that officers with the community relations unit are not just sitting in an office; They still monitor the radio and respond to calls, he said.
The officers encouraged residents to volunteer for citizen patrols and to attend upcoming training sessions to help with patrolling.
The live-streamed event also received comments from people not all that happy with the department, but even then, the three officers answered questions about police beatings and racial profiling.
Howard advised viewers to take a video and to call the police department and ask to speak to the watch commander if they believe they have witnessed an officer mistreating someone.
“If you see something, say something,” said Marty. “We don’t cover anything up.”
Many of those posting comments said they are happy to see the department being progressive and thinking outside the box.
“Thanks for doing this! Dragging Montebello into the 21st century,” wrote Diana Ashkenasy.
“Thank you for reaching out to the community and for your service day in and day out,” wrote Helen Ligh.
Officers advised viewers of other resources available to them, recommending they sign up for the free Nixle alert system used by many law enforcement and emergency service agencies, and the neighborhood connection app Next Door. They also urged residents to follow the Montebello Police Department on Facebook and Twitter, adding they plan to continue interacting with the public in other ways, such as attending chamber events, visiting businesses.
The department is also in the process of getting their website built, according to Marty, who said they hope to create a central hub for all the information they distribute. With thousands of views, Marty said the department plans to hold more live events in the future.
“We’re trying to be transparent,” he said. “We want to show you we are human just like you.”