The was packed with concerned community members on Thursday evening gathered to discuss solutions to a recent surge of gang-related violence in their neighborhood.
The community forum was hosted by the , and featured among its invited guests were Councilmember Ed Reyes and Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Capt. William Murphy.
Gang tensions led to more than a dozen shootings in Highland Park in July, one of which resulted in the death of in front of a Monte Vista Street apartment building.
On Thursday evening, Murphy told Patch that he was confident that the department could be successful in stemming the recent violence.
"We do have a track record of taking care of gang violence. Monte Vista is a problem right now, but it's nothing like Drew Street," Murphy said, referring to the notorious street in Glassell Park that was for a years a headquarters for a powerful Northeast LA gang.
In 2008, as part of a Drug Enforcement Administration lead raid, more than 500 officers from various agencies marched on Drew Street. The raid resulted in the arrest of 26 gang members and the crippling of the local gang element. Since then, Murphy said Drew Street has undergone a revitalization. Property values are on the rise and the neighborhood is now home to a community garden.
Murhpy said a multi-agency raid of Drew Street proportions would likely not be needed to put an end to gang violence on Monte Vista Street. Instead, the LAPD would prefer to partner with the community instead of the DEA.
"These meetings are great for police/community relations, when people come out and share their concerns and frustrations, because its an opportunity for me to say to them, 'You have to play your part too and help us out,'" Murphy said. "Get on our Facebook page, get on our Twitter and give us information. Become part of a neighborhood watch. If we've got issues — like one gentleman who mentioned that we've got to break down barriers and build better trust — then we gotta address those issues."
Some community members were already taking action before Thursday's meeting. Ruben Del Portillo, a new member of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, said he recently toured the neighborhood with staff from the Central City Action Committee, a graffiti abatement agency that serves Highland Park. Del Portillo told those in attendance on Thursday that he had already put together a group of ten volunteers who would be trained by Central City in graffiti removal so they could assist the under-funded, under-staffed agency.
"We all need to work together to make Highland Park a better, safer place," Del Portillo said.
Art Pulido, a Cypress Park resident, said one of the biggest challenges facing Northeast neighborhoods was a lack of job opportunities — especially for those just getting out of jail. He urged Councilmember Reyes to establish programs that could help reintegrate ex-convicts into the work force.
"The first thing they're going to do, if they're ex-felons, is look for the easiest way to get back on their feet. No. 1: drugs. No. 2: the homies — the gangs," Pulido said. "Open up the doors."
Pulido said that, while programs like Summer Night Lights were good for some children, they struggled to impact hard-to-reach teens who were already immersed in gang life.
"Summer Night Lights is good for little kids, but not the hard-to-reach youth," he said.
After the meeting concluded, HHPNC member Janet Dodson said that residents who attended the meeting needed to get more involved in the community if they wanted to affect any change in Highland Park.
"I think it is only with community action that we can ever expect better city services for Highland Park," she said. "When groups of people demand graffiti to be removed, for example, they will get it."