LONG BEACH — Camera in hand, Jim Levesque watched from his condominium balcony as a stream of alleged drug dealers walked in and out of a condemned building nearby. Many went in empty-handed but came out holding bags.
Levesque recorded the movements on film.
A few nights ago, he passed the photographs among neighbors, police and city officials who gathered in the Goldengate Square Condominiums' modern-looking community room to discuss problems in the surrounding blocks--an area that Councilman Evan Anderson Braude labeled one of the worst spots in downtown Long Beach.
"We have a frustration level here," resident Fletcher Rainer warned the city representatives.
So residents snap photographs, walk around the neighborhood jotting down license plate numbers and call police--with regularity--when they suspect a crime is being committed. Now, the residents await help from a relatively new special police unit that is geared to answer residents' complaints about street drug sales.
'Here to Stay'
Downtown is their home, resident Laura Brasser said.
"I'm here to stay," Brasser told her neighbors. "We shouldn't be intimidated."
As with other new housing projects downtown, the 2-year-old condominium building at 4th Street and Golden Avenue reflects a neighborhood in transition.
The peach-and-green community room itself offers a stark contrast to the outside world: a conglomeration of mostly run-down houses and apartments. While the World Trade Center is being built three blocks away, and condominium and apartment projects are under construction nearby, drug dealers continue their business practically outside the residents' doorsteps, Levesque and his neighbors complain. And police, they argue, ignore their repeated phone calls.
"If you go to any other neighborhood east of Long Beach Boulevard, you will see police officers regularly," resident Bonnie Myers said. "In our area, you will not see that."
'Whole City' Has Problem
Officer Lance Wallace said he is sympathetic to the residents' plight. "You folks have a big problem here," he told them Wednesday night. "But so does the whole city."
Wallace is one of four members of a special police task force formed seven months ago to rid neighborhoods of small-time street dope dealers. That's four officers for an entire city, Wallace and his partner, David Nieto, emphasized.
Since she works as a police officer for Cal State L. A., Myers said she understands "the problem that they need more police officers. But we need protection."
Myers said she knew she was moving to a high-crime area when she bought her Long Beach condominium.
"But I also know, from a police department point of view, that those who yell the most will get the most," Myers said.
Now, Myers and her fellow residents are complaining loudly, and appear to be getting the attention of city authorities. In the 48 hours before the community meeting, police arrested five people whom residents had suspected of dealing drugs, and city workers put a fence around the condemned building that provided the backdrop to Levesque's photographs. Wednesday night, the residents also heard city representatives and the two police officers pledge their support.
The four-member "street sales enforcement team" works more than 100 "hot spots" around the city, Wallace said.
About two months ago, for example, the team spent nearly two weeks in the neighboring Willmore City district, north of 7th Street. Residents there also had complained about crime and a lack of police attention. Since the officers concentrated on the area, there has been less crime, according to Brenda Hinton, president of the Willmore City Heritage Assn. Other areas have not been as lucky, and the criminals return as soon as the officers leave, police concede.
Hinton's group also features middle-income families who have moved downtown and are vocal about their concerns.
"(Police are) not clairvoyant and they don't read minds, and they don't know you have a problem unless you tell them," Hinton said.
Financed by Federal Grant
The special police team, financed by a federal grant, goes to "hot spots," depending on the number of complaints received from an area or a council member, Sgt. Gary Halliday said. So far, the team has worked throughout the city, with an emphasis on downtown and in the west and central areas, according to Lt. Al George.
Police say they do the best they can with the resources they have. "There's a limit to what we can do because there's a limit to our resources," Halliday said.
But that's not good enough for the new residents of downtown Long Beach. They complain that more affluent parts of town get preferential treatment not only from police but from other city departments.