Bell Gardens Residents Unite Against Crime

August 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Communities across the nation gathered Tuesday in an effort to stop crime, but Bell Gardens resident Maria Martinez told EGP she and her neighbors make an effort to stop crime year round, not just on National Night Out.

Hundreds of people, including entire families, took part in Bell Gardens’ Annual National Night Out event Tuesday at Veterans Park. The festive fair-like atmosphere included information booths and displays of police weapons, and words from the city’s chief of police.

“This is a great annual event for all communities, but we are always keeping our neighbors informed,” Martinez said in Spanish. “We start preparation for the Night Out event once it’s over, but we have other events throughout the year,” she explained.

National Night Out events have become a staple in local communities in recent years. Cities like, Commerce, Montebello and neighborhoods in East Los Angeles, as well as Bell Gardens, regularly draw hundreds, sometimes thousands, of residents to organized events planned in coordination with local police and sheriff’s departments.

Martinez is a Neighborhood Watch block captain. She told EGP that in her neighborhood, people of all ages are involved in the program, but she feels more involvement is necessary.

“This event gives people an opportunity to make a personal connection with our police department,” Martinez explained. “At first residents are hesitant, but in Bell Gardens we grow to know officers by their first name.”

Observed annually since 1984 on the first Tuesday in August, National Night Out was initially created as a call to residents to host public gatherings in a take-back-the-streets show of community pride.

Billed as “America’s night out against crime,” it has evolved into a partnership between the police and community, increasing local awareness about various police programs, including drug prevention, town watch, neighborhood watch and other crime prevention activities.

Explorer with the Bell Gardens Police Department talks about the program with local boy. (EGP photo by Carlos Alvarez-August 1, 2017).

Explorer with the Bell Gardens Police Department talks about the program with local boy. (EGP photo by Carlos Alvarez-August 1, 2017).

According to Bell Gardens Chief of Police Robert Barnes, the city has seen a dramatic decrease in crime during the last six months. The crime rate has dropped 30 percent from last year, but that “doesn’t mean we don’t have crime,” Barnes said.

“Prior to that time, over a 16-month period, we saw an increase in crime,” he said, “but violent, property, burglaries and robbery crimes have since gone down.”

Local residents, especially those involved in Neighborhood Watch groups, play an important role keeping neighborhoods safe, the police chief said.

Bell Gardens Neighborhood Watch Coordinator Mary Lou Trevis told EGP that an event like this brings the community together and sends a strong message to criminals that there’s a strong relationship between residents and the police department.

“Growing up, we were taught to believe that the police were out to get us,” Trevis said. “We educate our neighbors about having a more open communication with our police department.”

Martha Carrasco has lived in Bell Gardens since 1972 and says she was at first hesitant to get involved with her local Neighborhood Watch group, but said she has seen a positive change towards the police department in recent years.

“The communication with our officers is more open,” Carrasco said. “No matter the magnitude of the crime or the situation, we know we can reach out to our department and vice versa.”

Carrasco describes her role in Neighborhood Watch as one that is similar to that of a first responder.

“We are the eyes and the ears of our neighborhood,” Carrasco said. “We help our department any way we can and reaching out to neighbors and trying to get them to be more involved goes along way.”

Trevis hits that point home, shouting into the mic, “Why are we here?”

“To stop crime,” the crowd shouts back.

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