Well-Deserved Kudos to Valiant Neighbors : Individuals Forge Anti-Gang Alliances With Police

A number of Orange County cities suffer from the violence of gangs, whose members often attempt to intimidate residents trying to make their streets safer. But there have been successes in the fight against gangs, and they deserve to be heralded.

Maria Alvarez has lived in the same apartment on Shalimar Street in Costa Mesa since immigrating from Guatemala in 1976. Four years ago, drug peddlers and gang members had become so widespread in her neighborhood that she had to speak out.

Alvarez courageously confronted more than three dozen gang members. They told her to mind her own business or suffer the consequences.

But to her credit, she did not back down. Instead, Alvarez enlisted support from members of her church, reached out to neighbors, and persuaded city officials and police to listen to her coalition.


Police helped crack down on crime around Shalimar Street and Alvarez’s coalition launched a neighborhood learning center, as well as a gathering spot for teen-agers and a program for preschoolers.

Alvarez was honored last month by Orange County Together, a group founded after the Los Angeles riots three years ago to promote dialogue among different groups.

Orange County Together also deserves praise. For the second year, the group gave out awards to those who improved the safety of their communities. The recipients included activists like Alvarez, parent-teacher groups, police chiefs and police officers.

One of last year’s winners was Elodia Gonzalez, who once was afraid even to pick up the trash in her Anaheim yard because she knew drug peddlers and their friends dumped syringes and condoms there. Like Alvarez, Gonzalez received help from the Orange County Congregation Community Organization, a church-based coalition of community groups that has helped organize neighborhoods.

The awards to police are justified recognition that law enforcement needs support from the community. Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Westminster and Fountain Valley were some of the cities whose police were honored.

Several of the awards were for police departments that established substations outside police headquarters. That is a good way to get police closer to the residents they serve. Community policing, which is being tried in more and more communities across the country, attempts to prevent crime rather than just react to it.

Typically, two or three police officers will set up shop in a substation and patrol frequently enough to become familiar faces. That encourages residents to tip them off about everything from dangerously deteriorated apartments to drug sales. Police know where to turn to get help handling housing complaints; they know how to arrest the criminals.

One problem with community policing is the expense. It is labor intensive and costs more than staying at headquarters or patrolling in cars, waiting for reports of crimes. But it seems to be justifying the higher cost.

Police need community backing to spend the extra money and residents’ help in reporting what is happening. If their efforts make the streets safer, community policing will be worth the cost.