Over one hundred people, most with something to say, filled Thelma Terry Center at the park in a standing-room-only crowd for the recent meeting of the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board.
In the wake of a July 7 shooting that sent a juvenile victim to the hospital, and a July 11 report of sexual assault, both at the park, and two other recent shootings in the Pico neighborhood, the community turned out to listen and to talk with the advisory board and representatives of the Police Department and the City Human Services Division.
Advisory Board chair Florence Benjamin welcomed the public and reviewed the agenda. Although many of the citizens wanted to discuss the broader issues of violence in the neighborhood, all manner of police interaction with youth and available youth activities in the City, board co-chair Lise Reilly repeatedly reminded the public that discussion was limited under board rules to the two items on the evening’s agenda: “a protocol for communicating high profile incidents of violence in the Pico neighborhood to the Park community,” and “a protocol for providing information to Virginia Avenue Park staff on youth arrests at” the Park.
Regarding the distribution of accurate information about violent crimes, police chief James T. Butts, Jr. introduced Captain Jacqueline Seabrooks, who explained that police presently (a) post such information on the homepage of the police Internet website (www.santamonicapd.org), available free at public libraries; (b) have recorded telephone information on the public incidents hotline (310.434.2650) posted within five hours of the incident and updated thereafter; and (c) notify neighborhood leaders and local press outlets directly. Chief Butts added that direct notice was sent to Betty Macias of the park staff, who is also staff liaison to the park Advisory Board.
Citizens recommended additional avenues of information, including the use of churches, community groups and flyers, and the board, at the urging of Lori Nafshun and Nick Steers, commissioned a group to recommend ways to better disseminate information.
As to the second agenda item regarding a protocol for providing information to Virginia Avenue Park staff on youth arrests at the park, people’s concern focused on notification of parents, and on providing information to park staff as a means to that end. Chief Butts said that when minors were detained and taken to the station, police always notified parents or made every effort to do so, but that youths were interviewed and released on site without parental notice.
After discussion among the Advisory Board, Macias and Scott Wasserman of the City Human Services Division concerning the SMPD substation at the park, the public addressed a variety of subjects, including claims of police abuse of juveniles and the lack of youth activities and advocates.
Belinda Ramos said that the Pier seemed reserved for tourists and not available to local youth, Johnny Ramirez of the Pico Youth and Family Center addressed the importance of building relationships and Darrell Johnson – a young man who staffs boxing classes at the park – spoke to the need for more open discussion at such meetings.
Although the board agenda was limited to providing information to park staff on youth arrests at the park, board member Irma Carranza and some of the public urged that parents be notified every time any youth had any contact with police officers. Chief Butts said that such a protocol would be unworkable and impossible.
At one point, clearly irritated by the criticism of police conduct by some, and by the talk of unavailability of youth activities, Butts told the room that he “fail[ed] to see acknowledgment of all we do, in this neighborhood in particular,” in an apparent reference to the volunteer activities of police, including PAL.
Discussion of this second agenda item concluded with the Advisory Board stating that Macias and the park staff would collaborate with the police regarding parental notification, amid public mumblings to “open it up” for a broader discussion of neighborhood and Citywide issues.