Long Beach is not unfamiliar with Community Policing. After having suffered through one of the most brutal Police Chiefs in the history of the City, whom I am proud to say I was part of the movement to have him fired in 1992, we were fortunate to hire Anthony Batts as our new Chief of Police. He was a perfect fit.
It is my philosophy and personal observation that good character within a business or department flows from the Top Down. Beverly O’Neill was our Mayor and I don’t think anyone could find a better, kinder, more effective communicator than her. Her system of outreach and direct communication with the residents of Long Beach prepared the ground for Anthony Batts and his new concept of community Policing.
Before Tony, the police department was organized as a “strike force”. We had paid for Riot Gear, body shields, new weapons, and ammunition thinking this was the solution to the increase in crime and we were broke financially. It was 1993, and we had entered our 1st real year of Recession after the military downsizing of the Greater Long Beach area. We had more foreclosures than any other city in the State. As desperation spread, so did crime. Tony knew that to combat rising crime, we had to create a community that worked together, that solved underlying problems which were the incubators of crime. Lack of jobs, lack of mentoring, Lack of constructive things to do, were all part of the problem.
He started by forming Division Police Advisory Committees. I was honored to be president at one time or another of both the South Division PAC and the East Division PAC. I still have wonderful friends from those days, like Grace Earl and Vickie Elliot. Every month we would meet with the commander to give our latest update on conditions in our respective areas. I represented the far western side of the East Division and in the South Division PAC, I represented the far Eastern side of the division. We would tell the commanders where the “hot spots” were, where the cars had been broken into, where shops had been attacked, where gay-bashing or racial attacks had occurred. With this information, he had weekly meetings with the Watch Commanders to deploy officers specifically to those areas.
But they were not attack squads. Tony got our officers out of their cars, to walk the business corridors, and the parks and the denser areas of the neighborhood. They would stop into local coffee shops, or diners, talk with the business owners and the neighbors. He kept his officers assigned to an area for a really long time in order for them to bond with the neighborhood and the people. Eventually, everyone knew our beat officers by name. We had friendly relationships with them, and we prided ourselves on being the eyes and ears of the police department.
We had a “broken window” policy, not in the traditional sense, but in a neighborhood improvement sense. Whenever we saw a broken window or a graffiti tag, we noticed our watch commander. We were building a database. When you track graffiti tags, broken windows,
bike thefts, burglaries, etc, you create a geographic map of the area. You can pinpoint within a couple of blocks where the trouble is emanating. Bikes have to be stolen near a chop shop, as most thieves don’t have a truck to transport them a long distance, and biking a long distance will leave them stranded. So we tracked and tracked, and we found the chop shops, we found the pawn shops that were dealing in stolen goods, We found the gangs and the limits of their territories. What a win. Common Sense really worked, and Tony knew how to make those statistics work for his department and the City. We didn’t go after bike thieves we went after chop shops. Once the market was dried up, the thievery stopped. Once the gangs knew we knew where they were, they were boxed in and could not expand their territories. Gang Wars basically ceased. And indeed we put a few pawn shops out of business. Good riddance.
At that time, we did not have a graffiti abatement program. Alamitos Beach Neighborhood Association started the first organized graffiti abatement group. We bought 25 different colors of paint, so in a moment’s notice, we could go out and remove the tags from the buildings. (I stored the paint, rollers, brushes, and drop cloths in my garage at 1828 E. 2 nd Street.) Anthony thought that was a great idea, so he bought paint for other neighborhoods. (I think out of his own pocket). Within the year the City had started their first graffiti removal program, located at 2601 San Francisco Ave. and although we kept doing our neighborhood, they eventually took over. This is part of community policing is all about, having a Chief who engages with the people on a first-name basis, listening to their thoughts, picking up on their inventions, and adding them to his own tool kit.
We didn’t really call it a de-escalation program, but our officers knew our people as they were assigned so long to one location. They knew as did we, who the people were, who might be drug-addicted, or alcoholics or just in trouble. Tony organized the first police recovery outreach program. We decided under his guidance not to lock people up overnight or for 3 days, (and his rationale was convincing) He said that a revolving door never helped anyone. Instead, his officers would take folks to AA meetings, or NA meetings, just hang around for a while and make sure everything was comfortable. And then daily would check up on these guys and ask them how they were doing. Two things happened. These “bad” guys knew they were being watched, but also they knew that someone cared enough to check up on them and not with accusatory glares but with genuine concern.
Anthony was responsible for bringing so many of our people back into the community.
This doesn’t mean he was weak. He targeted the murders and shootings in the City and made it mandatory to report each incident. His reporting data was detailed and accurate. If it was a bike theft he knew about it. What you don’t know you cannot correct. He was not concerned with Crime Stats and the Reputation of the City. He was concerned with solving our crime issues. He knew instinctually that gun violence was in an entirely different category than aggravated assault, which is more of a crime of passion.
We were fortunate at the time to have a superb Health Department Director, who was critical in completing the ring of outreach for Anthony’s plan for community policing. With the limited resources the City gave them they organized social service appointments to those households impacted by constant violence. It was a scary job, and our health department staff were brave people, facing down nervous and fearful people in the areas of the City we once thought of as lost.
I think the overarching ethic of Anthony Batt’s program of reform was inclusion and outreach. He included every neighborhood and that meant that policing was no longer just for the wealthy areas of the city, but for all. You could definitely report vandalism in Belmont Shores under Larry Binkley when he was Chief of Police, but God forbid you wanted to report the same thing on 13th and Magnolia. The North finally got service, Central Long Beach got responses, and he tracked response times as if we were reporting ADT services. He had a goal for a 2 minute maximum response time, and we almost made it by the end of his tenure here.
1992 was the year of the Rodney King riots, so the racial division of the City was pronounced. No one trusted each other. Oh, we had organized groups by 1993, like The Council of Neighborhood Organizations, The Council of Business Organizations, The Just Five Organization, (all of which I served as Chairman) but also the Ministerial Alliance which Dee Andrews, Councilman of the 6th District was instrumental in establishing for the black churches of Long Beach. The First Congregational Church was deeply involved with the healing of our community with our wonderful Minister Mary Ellen Kilsby. I served as Chair of Stewardship and Finance. All of these factors played a role in community policing. Our combined efforts were to heal the wounds, not pour salt into them.
Anthony set up sub-stations in every “hot zone”. We had a sub-station in Bixby Park, which we, as volunteers, manned. We had one on 7th and Orange, where the current Craftsman Historic Village Neighborhood Association meets, as that was a dangerous area in the adjacent dreary apartment building. Throughout the City, Tony established his network of community manned substations. Doors were always open to the public. We gave information to folks, we took reports of crimes or problems and turned them into our Watch Commander. I am sure he was inundated with pieces of white paper, but he gave them to the appropriate departments of the City to be handled, and before you knew it, we had a coordinated effort from Code Enforcement, Public Works, Parks and Rec. Economic Development and the Police Department working together to solve problems.
We had task forces for areas and we concentrated on them until they had improved. The essence of this work was a congenial working together with residents and our City Services. We invited people to be “block captains” and our associations were packed. Oh, The City got upset a few times, like when we painted the bandstand at Bixby Park and all the benches. (We didn’t have permission, but then we knew the City didn’t have the funds
available) They ran us off that afternoon, but we snuck back that night and finished the walls. I painted the verdigris Chandelier in the Bankstand and the shutters. One year later the City created “Partners of Parks” modeled after what we did. Volunteers working with staff and workers to crate better parks and better beaches and marinas. It was a magnificent program.
I believe we can attribute all of this marvelous work, and the great outcomes to one man, Chief Anthony Batts. His vision for a better community, his high standards of behavior, and his rock-solid dependability transformed our formerly brutal and corrupt Police Department.
The main element of all of his vision was people working together not in conflict with the City but in mutual work and benefit with the City. Yes, we were poor and almost declared bankruptcy, but his vision led us all out of that together along with the strong and gentle leadership of Mayor O’Neill. We pooled our resources and came up with creative ideas that not only worked but inspired our neighborhoods. It has to be noted that before 1992 there were only 5 neighborhood associations in the City. By 1995 we had 128 neighborhoods, organized and inspired. I remember our first meeting of CONO at the Kilroy Airport Plaza. It was extraordinary. This was the greenhouse for leaders springing up from the grassroots. To this day I treasure the people I met then, Cindy Archimbault, Catherine La Rosa, Bry Myown, John and Janet Anderson, Jose Ulloa Tracy Kleekamp Wilson and so many more. Out of our grassroots efforts, The City created Leadership Long Beach, of which I am proud to have been at the formation of.
Tony turned our crime stats around. From highs for murder and shootings, our City was ranked in the top 5 Cities for safety and good policing. People no longer feared our police, and we had a strong working relationship not only with our beat officers but with the watch commander,
the Division Commanders, and our Chief. I never felt that I would not be welcomed to come into his office to chat.
One of the other critical things Tony did was to open the Division Station to the people. It cost so much to pay the police to man the front desk that we invited volunteers in, trained them, and let them be the first contact with the public. Doors were open from 8 in the morning till 8 at night.
We also had Senior Police Partners and a great program called PAL, The Police Athletic League, which was a program for youth sports and training. It was a huge success and very popular and kept kids off the streets. Good competition, healthy attitudes for losing, and good friendships. The empty building is still there on the east side of Anaheim Street. I wish we would revive that.
I could go on, but I think you get the basic idea of what REAL community policing is. We have done this before, and we saved our City because of it. We can do this again if we have the will to implement it.
The obvious lesson to be learned in all of this is that Human beings need something to look up to. We really do want high standards. We thrive on the positive and we are uplifted when we are challenged to do and be our best. And it is also in human nature that left to our own devices, the behavior of people and groups descends to the lowest level possible.
I think we are seeing this descent into negativity all around us, and our entire Nation is threatened by it. We have simply forgotten these simple rules of mankind. If you call people to rise to the best they can give, they will give you that and even more. The success of the Non- Violent Movement for the Independence of India is a prime example of this. But we must think locally. We are better than we think. We have more to give, more to create, and more to be proud of than we imagine.
All it takes is the City to trust us. We have so much to give. Challenge us to participate and do not lock us out, we will exceed your expectations. Engage us, and we will be the best partners you have ever seen.
There is an old Chinese Expression. “Of the worst of kings, the people feared and abhorred them. Of the good kings, the people praised and admired them, But of the best of kings, the People said. Oh, we have done these things ourselves.” Chronicles of Chen. 200 AD.