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Pico Residents Take Another Crack at Youth Violence, Police Relations

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 26 – One day after shots rang out again in the Pico Neighborhood, concerned residents packed another meeting at Virginia Avenue Park to discuss recent gang violence and police relations.

But unlike a meeting last week where police and residents abruptly left in frustration, a slew of ideas were offered on how to make things better.

In a setting unhindered by strict speaking procedure and ground rules prohibiting personal attacks, Social Service Commissioners – who usually meet across town at the Ken Edwards Center – listened for nearly two hours as residents and police spoke.

Increasing youth job fairs and resources for single parents, helping youths recently released from jail, expanding youth sports and arts programs, implementing early intervention and launching a more regional approach to gang violence were among the suggestions made.

But both police and residents agreed that starting new programs won’t halt the violence, if programs that already exist are not being used.

“There are enough programs in this community, just not enough direction, particularly in this neighborhood,” said Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr., who last week weathered withering criticism leveled against his department for how they interact with Pico youths. (see story)

Although Butts received a handful of negative comments by residents Monday– many from members of the Pico Neighborhood Association and the Pico Youth and Family Center – he defended his department’s handling of the recent violence, citing only five citizen complaints against the department in the last five years.

“We cultivate a proactive culture to protect citizens’ dignity and civil rights,” Butts said.

Despite evidence of a rift between the police and some members of the community they protect and serve, Pico residents echoed Butts’ statement that more needs to be done to improve existing programs.

Thomas Garcia, one of a handful of youths who attends the teen Center at the newly expanded park, said the real challenge is finding a way to draw troubled youths off the street and into programs like the one he visits weekly.

“We need to get kids to actually come to the (teen center,)” said Garcia, who suggested better outreach by the City, and publicizing such activities as airbrushing and a hip-hop workshop for aspiring musicians.

Nearly two dozen mentors are lined up and waiting for youths to enroll with Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs at the park, an advisory board member said.

“There are 23 mentors standing by, but no kids,” said Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board member Wes Terry. “There are a wealth of programs.”

Although no concrete suggestions were made for boosting participation, the commission will deliver its findings to the City Council for consideration.

Monday’s meeting came one day after police responded to shots fired Sunday night somewhere between 18th Street and 21st Street on Pico Boulevard near the park.

A police supervisor assigned to the area in response to a recent rash of violence “saw a male wearing baggy clothing running westbound on Pico Boulevard,” according to police.

The man had been reportedly walking when a car approached, police said. After the occupants said something to him, he ran, and the suspects inside the car opened fire.

No one was injured in the shooting, police said

When asked questions, the victim “was uncooperative and gave limited information,” police said.

The suspect’s vehicle is described as possibly a white, mid-90s Toyota Corolla.

Anyone with information should call the Robbery/Homicide Unit of the Santa Monica Police Department at 310 458-8451 or the Watch Commander’s Office at 310-458-8426.

Callers who wish to provide anonymous information may also call the We-Tip national hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463). Callers with information that leads to an arrest and conviction become eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

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