Police Chief Describes the Changing--More Violent--Nature of Crime
Q: In the 29 years that you’ve been in the department, how has the nature of crime changed and how has the job changed for the typical patrol officer?
A: The nature of crime has become more violent. It’s more dangerous than it was in years gone by. We respond to more people with guns, more people with a lack of social conscience, people who have no commitment to the community or to anything other than their own concerns for self-gratification. And it has made the job more challenging. It’s required a great deal of training for our new officers and they do an outstanding job in a rather difficult environment.
Q: At a time when police statistics show crime is going down in the city, there seems to be more and more people talking about how bad things have gotten and are calling for City Council to hire more police, or do something to control crime. What’s happening?
A: Tell me something. Can you turn on the television, the radio, or pick up the newspaper without reading that or hearing that as the No. 1 issue discussed? We live an information age where people have access to instant information about events occurring throughout the nation and the world. . . . We live in an age that is much more sensitive to the world around us because of the media. As we become more sensitive to it, the media find that’s an area of interest and they report more of those kinds of events and so they become the topic of conversation.
Q: Is it simply that people are getting more information? Why do you think the perception that Long Beach has become a more dangerous place exists?
A: A couple of things. The availability of information and the types of crime that are occurring. We are becoming a more violent society, and those are the type of incidents that garner the attention. We see a postal worker in Dana Point stalking and attempting to shoot somebody that he had a crush on, and those events are occurring all over the country and we didn’t see that 25, 30 years ago.
Q: What about in Long Beach?
A: As our population and the density of that population has increased, we have had a commensurate increase in crime and we have also seen an increase in gang activity . . . . There are areas that are more impacted than others, and feel the pressure of it, but everybody in the community is aware of it and it impacts the entire city.
Q: Do you think the perception is worse than reality?
A: Well, perception is reality. If you believe that you can’t go out on the street safely, then that is your reality. I can tell you all day long that you can walk up and down the street, but if you don’t believe that, if your perception is that it is unsafe, then that is the world that you live in.
Q: Has Long Beach become a more dangerous community to live in the last five years?
A: Yes, you could say that, but I think we are not any more dangerous than any other community in this nation. I don’t think that you can go to any metropolitan area and find an area that has diminished the crime rate to an appreciable degree. We aren’t, by any means, in a great state, but, on the other hand, I don’t think we are in a disaster mode.
Q: What would you say is the single most troublesome crime in the city today?
A: Probably street drug sales and all the things that go along with it--assaults, robberies, theft, shootings.
Q: Are drug-related crimes on the increase?
A: I wouldn’t say they are on the increase, but we haven’t been able to decrease it at all.
Q: Do you support the petition drive to place a measure on the November ballot that would force the City Council to hire additional officers and to pay their salaries out of the general fund?
A: I would be very pleased to have additional officers, but I am very concerned about the funding mechanism. In order to reach the levels required by the ballot measure we would have to severely impact other city services, and that is why I really view this measure with a great deal of reservation.
WILLIAM C. ELLIS William C. Ellis, 50, became Long Beach chief of police in March, 1992, after 27 years with the department.
Background: Ellis replaced Lawrence L. Binkley, who was fired in January, 1992. Since Ellis took over, about 170 officers have been hired, many filling vacant positions. In addition, a police substation was opened in North Long Beach and a second, in east Long Beach, is scheduled to open in October or November. Ellis said his goal has been to reassign more officers to patrol duties and improve the department’s response time.
Personal: Ellis has lived in the Belmont Shore/Naples area of the city for 30 years. He is married and has two grown sons, both of whom attended local public schools.
Interviewer: Times Staff Writer Tina Griego.