A multi-pronged effort by the police, city and community-based organizations
to make La Habra a safe city to live, work and shop has paid off as crime hit a 25-year low last year and is expected to continue the downward trend in 2014.
Nowhere in town is the evidence of crime reduction more evident than the decline in gang violence.
“From the early 90s to probably 2005, the city had a significant gang problem,” said acting Capt. Jeff Swaim. We were averaging probably between two to six gang homicides per year. That didn’t include the shootings and the stabbings and the drive-bys. The gang problem was seriously out of control.”
Swaim, who became an officer in 1988, remembers each weekend would result in a gang fight or drive by shooting.
The police chief at that time, Steve Staveley, looked for resources to combat the problem. He found some grant money, and with that in hand, the department was able to fund a district attorney, a probation officer on site, school resource officers and create a police gang unit, Swaim said.
It was the collaborative effort of those resources coupled with community based organizations, such as the Gary Center, that served to shut down the gang activity.
“We were able to take off the head off the snake, so to speak, and also try to interrupt the cycle of some of the younger ones,” Swaim said.
And while there are still remnants of the gangs and occasional gang fights and flare ups, the change is remarkable.
“I can’t remember the last time we had a gang homicide,” Swaim said.
The other area that has made marked improvements over the last few decades is the Southwest section of town. The area blossomed from what Swaim called a “dead zone,” filled with old retail and oil fields to bustling shopping centers that bring in lots of people and, in turn, lots of opportunities for property crimes.
In response, Swaim credited Chief Jerry Price for launching the Crime Reduction Strategies program that basically breaks the city down into three crime districts. Two of those districts are in the Southwest section bordered by Beach Boulevard to the west, Lambert to the north, Idaho to the east and Imperial on the south.
The third crime district is called quality of life, which encompasses the rest of the city and involves everything from transients sleeping in businesses, to recyclable thefts and graffiti.
“It’s a model of predictive policing,” Swaim said. “We look at crime trends, crime data and we identify areas in the city that are hotspots.”
Three lieutenants are assigned to each of these districts. They manage a team of sergeants and officers who take ownership of the areas and come up with creative solutions and ideas to address whatever crimes might be cropping up.
Swaim said the officers come up with public education campaigns and strategies and make sure they have high visibility in the area to deter crime.
“After the chief implemented that program, that’s when we started noticing the crime rates drop,” Swaim said. “It has had a significant impact in our crime rate in that area, as far as property crimes are concerned. Last year, we had the lowest crime in 25 years. This year, we are on track to even beating what last year was.”