Community and civic engagement now provides a safer space for residents of Azusa
Families in America can agree that raising their kids in a safe environment is a top priority. Perhaps the biggest factor in determining a cities safety rating is its level of crime. According to the city of Azusa’s Police Department 10 year data, crime rate within the city has dropped 18% since 2005; one of the highest drop rates over the past 10 years.
“Azusa has improved tremendously,” said Captain of the Azusa Police Department and long time officer Frank Chavez. “We are not the city we were in the 1980’s and certainly not the same city we were roughly 5 years ago.”
Over the years, the city has experienced heavy crime in homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson. Additionally, much of these crimes has been a derivative from the community lifestyle as well as gang related activities.
“The safety of the Azusa residents is a top priority for us,” said Mayor of Azusa Joe Rocha. “We were once classified as the hate crime capital of the region.”
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Azusa was a known hotspot for drug dealers and gang related activity. This time proved extremely active for Azusa 13 gang and their vigorous efforts in eliminating African-Americans in the community through hate-crimes and threats. According to the February 2011 Grand Jury Indictment, the Azusa 13 gang was believed to have formed in the 1960’s and acted as one of the most aggressive street gangs who were loosely affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. The gang was most known for its taxation on drug sales in the area and for funneling money to the Mexican Mafia.
“La ciudad estaba bien fea cuando llegue [The city was really bad once I got here],” said 30-year resident of Azusa Maria Pinto. “Antes estaba todo lleno de pandillas y violencia [It used to be filled with gangs and violence].”
In addition to a high-rise of criminal and gang presence, Azusa 13 gang sold and directed other members within the gang to sell narcotics, including methamphetamine and cocaine to narcotics customers in the City of Azusa. The increase of hard drugs during the early 2000’s was a direct result of the cocaine generation, which first appeared during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
According to the Azusa Police Department, the increase in cocaine sales gave rise to the methamphetamine generation as well as the manufacturing of it in other countries south of the border. In part, this is how Azusa gang 13 became affiliated with the Mexican Mafia during the early 90’s.
In addition to gang related crimes, the cities atmosphere provided a space for other types of criminal activity to occur.
“Several years ago we had problems with tagging and tagging crews,” said Chavez. “But we used to get even more calls in regards to drunk drivers.”
With now only one beer bar in downtown Azusa and select restaurants serving spirits, the cities climate has altered. Throughout the 1980’s there were more beer bars in the town, which increased criminal activity around these establishments. Officer Chavez added that it was not uncommon to have two to three stabbings a week near these places. A direct correlation could be seen from the number of bars in the area to the level of violent activity going on. Community members also noticed the suspicious activities throughout the town.
“Antes se miraban muchos borrachos caminando por las calles [There used to be a lot of drunks walking throughout the street],” said Pinto. “Tambien se miraban mas drogadictos y gente peleando [You would also see a more drug addicts and people fighting].”
Pinto added that she could see the change within the city as various bar establishments shut down.
“Si se mira muy diferente las cosas ya que no hay tantos bares y cosas asi [Yes you can see how different things are now that there are not so many bars and things like that],” Pinto said.
According to Chavez, there are not evident spots in Azusa where criminal activity is more apparent. He added that crime is common anywhere and it can be laborious to pinpoint certain areas in Azusa as more dangerous than others.
The late 1990’s showed a high activity of arson coming from a vast population of homeless people in the area. For a period of time, the homeless community posed a threat to the residents of the city because of their emerging fires on riverbeds and other arson related behavior.
With much delinquency in the city, the police force had the grand task of cleaning up the streets of gang and drug related crime during the past 10 years. In joint efforts with the mayor and community members, the narcotics department arrested 51 members of Azusa 13 gang and charged them with a number of felonies.
In 2011, the Azusa Police Department arrested 51 members and since then, about 400 other individuals have either been identified as active members or associates since the date of the gang’s inception.
Data compiled by the Azusa Police Department shows that in 2006 about 1,655 arrests were made in part 1 crimes. Part 1 crimes derive from both violent crimes, which include murder, forcible rape, robbery assault, and property crime, which include burglary, larceny, theft, and auto theft. In comparison to last year’s numbers, crime arrests have dropped to 1,223. That is 432 less reported crimes than what they were in 2006.
Not only do these statistics include residents in the area, but also many patrolling officers fall prey of the dangerous streets of Azusa. Many patrollers roam the streets late into the night and have to park their vehicles in the city, leaving them exposed to dangerous interactions.
“Crime has definitely subsided in the city, but many crimes fade in and fade out depending on the year,” Chavez said.
Compared to a 2012 census of the city of Santa Ana, Azusa had 1,053 less crime arrests in the cumulative total for both property and violent crime for the 2009 year. According to that same census, Santa Ana had an arrest rate of 2,513 for both violent and property crime in 2009.
Mayor Rocha added that although 911 service calls asking for help have lowered by 10%, there has been an increase in attempted suicide calls. In those same statistics, about 51 of those calls were in regards to someone hurting themselves or having suicidal thoughts.
With over 60 sworn officers and a handful of civilian staff, the Azusa Police Departments racks around 100 employees in order to vigil and attend the cities needs. The department has made conscious efforts to increase the number of employees and patrolling officers on the streets. With that, the department has incorporated a more modern approach in order to monitor the city in real time.
“We want to respond quicker and devote our resources in a thoughtful manner,” Chavez said.
Elected 8 years in row now, Mayor Rocha has also taken on the task of helping maintain the tranquility within the city. Currently, the city of Azusa has more than half of its population comprised of Latino or Hispanic residents. In order to promote safer environments between minorities, programs such as the Youth Advisory Commission promote conversations about gang and violence amongst young teens in Azusa.
“The police has done a great job in cleaning up and patrolling the city,” said Rocha. “It’s time to get involved with the community and listen to them instead of talking at them.”
In his efforts to restructure the cities dynamics, Rocha has implemented different types of community programming throughout his years as mayor. He created the event, Coffee with a Cop, in order to promote a stronger dialogue within the community of Azusa and the police force. Additionally, he is responsible for implementing workshops revolving around important community issues such as crime, gang activity and homelessness. Rocha is a common face within elementary and middle schools and committee cleanup events with the residents of Azusa.
“I want to make myself as visible as possible to the Azusa community,” Rocha said.
The Azusa Police department stresses safety within its residents. In order to maintain a secure community, the department advises to secure your belongings and insure the things you value most are stored properly. With that, Chavez says, “The best thing the community can do is be a good neighbor to one another.”