LONG BEACH — City officials say they are planning a number of steps to combat rape in this city, including hiring more women police officers.
Officials discussed their plans during a meeting this week with the president of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, who recently asked the organization to remove Long Beach from consideration as host for NOW's 1992 national convention. Gerrie Schipske, president of the local NOW chapter, cited the city's high number of rapes.
Jerry Lance, commander of the Long Beach Police Department's detective bureau, said at the meeting that the department needs more women and "is looking for support from other parts of the community" to encourage more women to become police officers.
Rape investigators have found that many rape victims are more comfortable discussing the crime with women police officers, Lance said. Only three women officers in the department are assigned to respond to rape reports, he said.
In addition to seeking more women officers, Lance said, representatives of the Police Department will be meeting with Schipske and other NOW members regularly over the next few weeks to discuss how the department can improve its record in preventing rapes and catching rapists. Eventually, Lance said, he expects the meetings to result in several other plans.
"Rape is a violent, heinous crime," he said. "The chief is really concerned."
The meeting Monday was scheduled after Schipske sent a letter to NOW's executive vice president, Patricia Ireland, to decline the organization's invitation to bid on sponsoring its 1992 national convention.
"As you are aware," Schipske wrote in the March 13 letter, "Long Beach has excellent hotel and convention facilities, as well as accessibility by public conveyance." Unfortunately, she went on, the city also experienced a 23.8% increase in rapes over the past year coupled with a "lack of response by the mayor and City Council" that made the location unsuitable for a women's convention.
A separate letter to Mayor Ernie Kell blasted the Police Department for failing to warn female residents of Belmont Heights, an affluent area on the city's east side, about a serial rapist who had attacked five women in the neighborhood over 2 1/2 weeks. Ironically, the letters were made public about the time that police arrested a 16-year-old boy who has since been charged with sexual assault and robbery in the cases.
Schipske said that the national NOW convention, held every two years, could have attracted as many as 4,000 women to Long Beach, a number that local tourism officials say would have brought millions of dollars to local businesses.
Kell said he called the meeting at City Hall to clear the air and initiate a dialogue between NOW members and city officials on the subject of rape. "Our image is very, very important," the mayor said. "We're all very concerned about the safety of women. We want to do everything we can to make it safe." Representatives of the city's convention and visitors council and human relations commission also attended the meeting.
Schipske later said she considered the meeting a "positive first step" toward dealing with her organization's concerns. While it was too late to change the chapter's decision on the upcoming convention, she said, "we haven't ruled out any future conventions."