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Budget Cuts Threaten San Bernardino Crime Fighting Gains

Black Voice News.com, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Mar 02, 2009

When Mavis Evans comes to care for her ill sister in San Bernardinos California Gardens community twice a week, she insists on leaving before nightfall.

Its the kind of place you dont want to get caught in after dark, said Evans. But Evans opinion was tempered a bit last month when her car stalled at sundown and a member of the police departments MAASS Crime Impact Team stopped to help.

I was shocked, he was nice and very helpful, said Evans who left her childhood community during the height of gang violence in 2005.

The streets are safer I think theres less tension between the police and the people who live here, she said.

For some time now special police units like MAASS and the Multiple Enforcement Team have been building community trust while targeting trouble spots before trouble occurs.

Ive seen a difference, said veteran officer Sgt. Rod Topping, who supervises the Multiple Enforcement Team that focuses on gangs.

Like Evans, Topping sees fewer gang and drug crimes and safer streets thanks to a blanket of suppression and a changing philosophy that focuses on prevention.

But a citywide budget deficit has Evans, Topping and others in this community worried that the budget ax will come crashing down on budding police community relationships, thriving youth programs, a new police sub station and beefed up police patrols.

Topping says non-patrol units like MET and MAASS may survive budget cuts but the amount of hours spent on the street could be rolled back. These days when it comes to crime San Bernardino is on a roll. Famously labeled the nations crime capital in 2005, in 2008 the city logged some of the lowest crime figures in years. San Bernardinos total of 35 homicides in 2008 was the citys lowest since 2001; other crimes such as robberies and vehicle thefts also hit eight and nine year lows. Police Chief Michael Billdt credits adding more officers after the violence of 2005 when more than 60 people many of them children were murdered.

If we lose critical crime fighting gains because of budget cuts, the whole city will suffer, said Rev. Bronica Martindale, president of the California Gardens Cluster Association.

After officers crashed a peaceful prayer vigil for slain 22-year-old Charles Marshall in 2007, Martindale called for a truce to the gang violence and helped marshal a series of U.S. Justice Department led mediations and community meetings.

We were determined to take back our community and head off escalating racial tensions between police and angry residents. We put more officers on the street and did a lot of talking, in the process crime stats fell and police and residents got to know each other better, said Martindale.

Martindale, no stranger to years of crushing violence and police tension in her neighborhood off California Street, is urging city leaders to use a scalpel rather than an ax when it comes to cutting public safety programs in an effort to solve a $9 million deficit.

We know theres gonna be pain and sacrifice, but theyve got to look at the progress made in these troubled areas and weight the downside of renewed violence and tension. Gutting to save money would not be wise, said Martindale.

Martindale is hoping the city will use federal stimulus funds or tap Measure Z sales tax revenues for intervention and prevention crime fighting tactics. While we welcome more police, these communities can not become shining examples by using suppression alone, said Martindale.

The City Council voted to lay off 55 employees last Monday and then met again Thursday to impose furloughs on police officers.

Its going to be rough for a while, said City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson whose 6th Ward encompasses California Gardens adding, The citys economic resources are shrinking as we speak, were trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

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