The folks from Minnie Street welcomed their new neighbors Sunday, presenting food, a sofa, a coffee maker and other gifts to the two police officers who will protect their street and operate from a recently completed substation.
About 300 well-wishers from the neighborhood and local churches turned out for a celebration, including a parade, to mark the end of a yearlong effort to bring the police closer to the community and reduce crime.
“This is something wonderful,” Esmeralda Soto, a member of the Orange County Congregation Community Organization, said of the new substation. “I feel all of the effort has come to a victory.”
Soto and the residents hope the police presence in a converted apartment will discourage drug dealing and gang activity in the area, which police concede is one of the most crime-ridden in Santa Ana.
With help from the Anaheim-based organization, residents of the community met with city and police officials to convey their need for greater security and more programs for young people. After several meetings last year, the Police Department obtained a $100,000 state grant to pay for the two police officers.
“They told us what they wanted,” said Police Lt. Chuck Magdalena, who said the Police Department was pleased to oblige.
The substation is tucked into a newly painted and carpeted one-bedroom apartment in the 1100 block of Minnie Street. Its walls are adorned with hand-painted signs from area schoolchildren.
“Welcome to Minnie St.,” says one sign. “We hope you enjoy being our neighbors.” The building’s owner donated the apartment, and the city pays for the utilities.
Residents said they can already see a difference since the officers arrived for duty last Tuesday.
“It’s quieter,” said Chao Lann, 52, who has lived on Minnie Street since she emigrated from Cambodia in 1981. Lann said that over the years her tires have been slashed four times, and her car windows have been broken repeatedly. She said she no longer hears shooting outside her apartment.
Others said the police presence adds to their sense of security.
“I’m really happy,” said Luis Avila, 38, who brought his family on a parade through the neighborhood that preceded the party.
“My neighbors are good,” he said. “And with police close, I feel much better.”
Avila said community efforts have made the place “more clean and secure,” and marked a return from a downward neighborhood spiral that he said began nine years ago.
George Huizar, 15, who walked beside him, agreed.
Before “the police were not really around,” he said. “Every time something happened, it was over by the time police got there.”
Police officers who attended the parade and party said they were gratified by the community response.
Officer Daniel Alegre, who will work at the substation regularly, said he was “overwhelmed by the support.”
“I’m almost to the point of tears,” he said.
Authorities believe the substation will make residents feel safe enough to report crime.
“A lot of these people are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation,” said Police Col. Steve Alegre. “To see them come forward so boldly and so united together--that’s what’s going to make a difference.”