At a town hall meeting last week in Boyle Heights sponsored by Los Angeles Police Dept. Hollenbeck Division, residents told police officers that despite data police say shows crime is down in their eastside neighborhood, they do not feel safe.
Last Thursday’s town hall only drew about 50 people, but those who attended said two recent homicides and other crimes have raised alarms about violence across their community.
“We don’t feel safe anymore,” Boyle Heights resident Joaquin Castellanos said before asking for more to be done to increase public safety where he lives.
Police said the two most recent shootings were close in proximity and timing, but were not related.
They were referring to the Jan. 17 murder of Oscar Alberto Felix, who was shot at his residence on the 600 block of N. Fickett St., and which according to police was gang-related. In the second incident, which occurred Feb. 3 outside El Troquero Bar on Cesar Chavez Ave., Jesus Manuel Nunez, 22, was killed after an argument with another man.
Officers presented the latest crime statistics for the area ending Feb. 8, 2014, which compared totals to the same time period in 2013: 21 robberies so far in 2014 compared to 34 in 2013, 31 shots fired compared to 17 in 2013 and 15 shooting victims compared to 5 in 2013.
“In a four week period we had several shootings, but those shootings also included people shooting in the air, people shooting at a house. Any time a firearm is discharged in city limits it is [considered] a crime report,” Hollenbeck Police Captain Martin A. Baeza told EGP following the meeting, again emphasizing that crime is down.
“We attribute the majority of the shootings to have some kind of gang nexus,” Baeza said, explaining that at last count 34 different gangs were active in the area served by the Hollenbeck division, which include El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Hermon, Montecito Heights, Rose Hills and Monterey Hills.
“They are usually fighting for territory and fighting among themselves,” he explained.
But the department’s crime stats did little to relieve concerns of residents who voiced a variety of issues, some beyond the scope of what the police department can handle.
Beside more police patrols, Castellanos wants an investigation of marijuana dispensaries in Boyle Heights to see if they are legal and following the law. Clean up the trash along Cesar Chavez Ave., Castellanos demanded.
Long-time Boyle Heights resident Rosie Gurrola attends many public meetings in the community and has for years been outspoken on local issues. She said Thursday that public safety is still a big concern in Boyle Heights. “There are horrendous messages with graffiti in the murals,” she pointed out firmly to police.
The lack of nighttime lighting at the Evergreen Recreation Center on East 2nd Street was a hot topic of concern, with several people saying they have repeatedly asked for lights at the park to stay on after dark to help deter crime activity.
“Turn the lights on at night at the park and public places. When lights are off homeboys and homegirls come out,” said Larreine Lavoiel.
Budget constraints may be a factor as to why the lights at Evergreen and other publics places do not stay on longer, but Area Supervisor Jennifer Martinez said she would take the issue back to her boss, Councilman Jose Huizar who represents the area.
Maria Banda attended the meeting in hopes of getting an explanation as to why her 18-year-old son was shot five times by LAPD officers on Nov. 3, 2013.
“I don’t have anything against you [LAPD], if my son did something wrong it is fine to punish him for what he did, not for what he didn’t, but was it necessary” too shoot him so many times? she asked calmly. Her son is in jail, accused of assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer.
Police did not respond to her at the time, but following the meeting Baeza told her the case is no longer in their hands and she should speak to the district attorney in charge of the case.
“They haven’t given me any answers yet,” Banda told EGP.
Banda said police suggested she work with others to find a solution to the area’s gang problems. They said I should form a group of gang members’ mothers “who can speak about the issue and understand what happens in the area,” she told EGP.
Baeza said he understands that the nature of their work causes many people to see police negatively, either because they are arresting people or giving them tickets. But he believes that by being involved in the community, some people will come to see things differently.
“Last month alone we attended 38 community meetings, neighborhood watch meetings, council meetings, different events in the community,” he said, demonstrating his point.
At the end of the day, Hollenbeck police want to be able to respond to questions and see how we can work with the community, he added.
“We know Hollenbeck is an immigrant community … I don’t care about your immigration status, what I care about is that you feel safe, so if you see a crime occurring, have the confidence to call us.”