Frustrated with a recent series of assault-related crimes reported in their area, many Pico Neighborhood residents in Santa Monica are calling on police to improve communication about such incidents as well as any arrests made of youths in the area.
At a special meeting of the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board Monday, July 17th, Pico area residents filled the park’s Thelma Terry Center to address communication problems between the police and community.
Top police and city officials, including Police Chief James Butts, Mayor Bob Holbrook and city manager Lamont Ewell were also in attendance to receive community input on protocol for communicating high-profile incidents of violence in the Pico Neighborhood.
Virginia Avenue Park has been the site of two recent crimes — an alleged sexual assault of a woman near a pay phone early Tuesday, July 11th, and the July 7th shooting of a youth who received non-life-threatening injuries.
Police continue to look for a suspect in each of the two incidents, which they believe are not related.
The two incidents are in addition to three other shootings that have been reported in the Pico area since July 4th.
But while residents say they are concerned about the number of recent incidents, they are frustrated that they are not being informed when the crimes occur.
“Apparently a lot of people are not getting the word that the incidents are happening,” Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board member Nick Steers said. “They’re shocked to hear it.”
Santa Monica police captain Jacqueline Seabrooks said the police make sure that they disseminate the report of crimes in a “timely manner,” through press releases, the police department Web site and a crime information hotline.
But some residents suggested that there should be more ways to get the information out to the public.
“We have to learn to communicate with each other because that’s when the problems erupt, when there’s a lack of communication,” resident Alejandro Rodriguez said.
Butts said police try to post information about crimes on the police department Web site as quickly as possible, but people should also look to other sources, such as media outlets for the news.
“We do the best we can, but there comes a point when we have to rely on the mass media to get the word out,” Butts said.
Scott Wasserman, a city human services administrator, said Friday, July 14th, that Virginia Avenue Park staff have also expressed concern about the recent crimes, but the incidents have not had an effect on attendance at the park and its various programs.
“We strive to provide the safest park possible for the Pico Neighborhood,” Wasserman said. “The kids are very safe here.”
The park staff continues to work closely with the police department, which has a substation at the park. Police have significantly enhanced deployment to the Pico area and the park, where they patrol on bicycles throughout park hours.
After receiving community input on communication of incidents of violence in the Pico area, the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board voted to establish a subcommittee to determine what can be done to better disseminate information to the public.
Some Pico Neighborhood parents at the meeting also called on police to provide more information about youth arrests made, as well as to notify them anytime youths are interviewed without being detained.
If a youth has contact with police, the parent of that youth should be called, resident Maria Rodriguez said.
“Parents have to be part of the solution,” resident Louis Jaffe said.
Butts said the protocol of police is that whenever youths are arrested or detained and taken to the police station, the parents are contacted.
But he added that it would be “unfeasible” for police to let parents know every time a youth is interviewed without being detained.
The police department makes thousands of contacts with juveniles in a year, Butts said.
Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board members plan to further address the community recommendations at the board’s next meeting scheduled Monday, August 7th.