Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story was originally published Dec. 14.
Gang violence, narcotics, vandalism and fights.
Officer Juan Munoz has responded to hundreds of these types of calls in the 16 years he’s patrolled the Oak View neighborhood.
“There is a lot of criminal activity,” he said of the square-mile community bound by Slater and Warner avenues, Beach Boulevard and Gothard Street.
Munoz said it used to be worse.
“Ten or 15 years ago, it was really bad,” he said. “I have watched children of gang members grow up, have kids, then their kids become gang members.
“It’s very hard to break the cycle.”
But Huntington Beach PD and some local community groups are working hard to improve the neighborhood and empower its residents.
The department recently joined forces with the nonprofit Oak View Renewal Partnership for a project targeted to reducing juvenile crime and gang activity in the neighborhood.
Police in November held a workshop to announce their plan to the community, which was made possible by a $300,000 grant from St. Joseph Health Community Partnership Fund.
Eight officers assigned to one of four quadrants in Oak View will walk the neighborhood to get face time with neighbors.
“We want to meet with residents and connect with them,” Munoz said. “We know about the obvious problems we see in the neighborhood, but we want to know about their quality of life issues.”
Munoz said he hopes this program will foster a better relationship between residents and the police department in a neighborhood that has been a challenge for decades.
Gang activity peppers the community with violence, graffiti and drugs. Crime is underreported and when a resident does call for help, it’s usually anonymously.
This makes it difficult for police to investigate and make arrests, Munoz said.
“There’s a mistrust of police,” he said. “A lot of people don’t call us because they think we are going to deport them.
“We’re not. We’re here to help them.”
The department’s program also includes encouraging residents to serve as leaders in the Oak View neighborhood to develop an open dialogue with law enforcement and city leaders.
“A lot of the residents here are hard working people just trying to make it day to day. Meanwhile, you have the ones that operate outside the norm and come in here wanting to drink, smoke and use drugs,” said Officer Bernard Atkins, who walks the neighborhood with Munoz. “We’re trying to get the citizens to take back their neighborhood.”
This enforcement effort is the latest program HBPD and the Oak View Community Renewal Partnership have implemented in the last 10 years.
The nonprofit has seen successes with its educational and recreational programs, which include a soccer league and a community cleanup day.
“The goal is to close the cultural, financial and social gap between the Oakview neighborhood and the rest of the city,” Munoz said. “I’m excited about our new effort. I’m confident it will make positive changes.”