South Gate community ambivalent about ‘defunding’ police

Bar graph displaying a timeline, from 2010 to Aug. 2020, of the total crime reports made in the city of South Gate ranging from homicide, rape, robbery assault, burglary, larceny, GTA, and arson. Data visualization by Tahiti Salinas using data from South Gate Police Dept.

Bar graph displaying a timeline, from 2010 to Aug. 2020, of the total crime reports made in the city of South Gate ranging from homicide, rape, robbery assault, burglary, larceny, GTA, and arson. Data visualization by Tahiti Salinas using data from South Gate Police Dept.

Tahiti Salinas, Community News Reporter

In a community where violent crimes are low and nonviolent crimes fluctuate, some politicians and those who live and work in South Gate seem to agree that crime in the community should be addressed.

Whether that means “defunding” the police is another story. Some say money spent on police could go elsewhere while others feel there are already community programs that address long-term crime prevention efforts.

Crime in South Gate 

According to Neighborhood Scout, South Gate is safer than 13% of U.S. cities, and chances of becoming a victim of violent crime in South Gate are 1 in 148 compared to 1 in 224 in all of California.

Gil Hurtado, a council member of South Gate, explained that violent crimes were not “typical” of South Gate, but that other crimes such as theft, car theft, and such had gone up a bit.

Bar graph displaying a timeline, from 2010 to Aug. 2020, of the nonviolent crime reports made in the city of South Gate. Data visualization by Tahiti Salinas using data from South Gate Police Dept.
Bar graph displaying a timeline, from 2010 to Aug. 2020, of the nonviolent crime reports made in the city of South Gate. Data visualization by Tahiti Salinas using data from South Gate Police Dept.

Hurtado added that after California voters voted to “reduce the building of more prisons” and the “reduction of what were felonies are now misdemeanors”, non-violent crimes have gone up since committing crimes that were once felonies became a “slap on the wrist.” In addition to this, individuals are getting a smaller sentence for crimes since “there [are] no prisons for them.”

In order to combat the non-violent crimes that take place within the community, Hurtado said that six to seven years ago the South Gate police chief established a Neighborhood Watch, which  now consists of 77 or 78 groups that watch over different parts of the city.

“It’s the same concept of city staff [or a] police employee that would go in and will say, on this block, this is the kind of activity that’s going on, here are the recommendations that we’re going to give you [the residents],” said Hurtado.

Activist Maria Estrada, who is also running for State Assembly of District 63, said she has been personally working to unravel injustices in the city of South Gate, among other South L.A. cities.

Estrada explained that because of the rise in homelessness due to the shut down of Eden Manor,  a mental health center in South Gate, some criminal activity went up.

“I see it all the time, where people are talking about their cars being stolen [or] broken into, [and] packages in front of their houses” are being stolen, Estrada said. “The worse the economic situation gets and the more people you see in desperate situations, crime is going to go up…The fact is, the police are not preventing that crime, the police show up after the fact.”

The city reports that the police response times for priority calls was less three minutes and 42 seconds in 2017. The South Gate Police Chief’s office could not be reached for comment despite a phone call and email.

Lucia Buenrostro, a city of Bell resident who works at Mariscos Delfin in South Gate, weighed in on the crime she has personally seen within the community.

“The crime that I have noticed the most [that’s] happening in South Gate [and] throughout Cudahy and Bell has been a lot of vehicular crime [or] personal property crime,” Buenrostro said.

‘Defund’ the police?

While those interviewed agreed crime should be addressed, they had mixed feelings about a movement to “defund” the police.

Hurtado said that folks advocating defunding effectively want to fund more mental health and homeless programs but those already exist. For instance, he said, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and other programs for substance abuse and mental health help many in the community.

On the other hand, Estrada said that she thinks defunding the police is a good idea when police are viewed as “superheroes” when really they are just “regular people” who are not receiving the necessary training to deescalate a situation and are given more tasks than they can handle.

“I think the terminology makes people nervous, but defunding the police actually does mean a reallocation of funds,” said Estrada. “I believe that using that money allocated, for the city, for programs, for the people in the community, and especially young people is more important than funding the police.”

Buenrostro said that more patrolling would benefit the community to lessen the crimes in South Gate but funding the police more wouldn’t allow for these changes to be made. That would instead allow the police to spend more money that isn’t benefiting the community, she said.

“I personally do support the defunding the police, because there’s a lot of money that is being spent incorrectly, in my opinion,” Buenrostro said. “Money that is already allocated to the police department should be spent more wisely and people should be held more accountable than what they are being held, especially when spending community resource money.”

Updated Oct. 27 to clarify that Maria Estrada is working to unravel injustices in cities such as South Gate.