Mayor-elect Victor Gordo hosted a virtual community meeting Thursday night with Pasadena Police Chief John Perez and City Manager Steve Mermell to update the community on what is known about an increase in recent violence in the city.
The meeting was streamed from outside the Villa Parke Community Center because the latest incident occurred there just a few days ago, Gordo said.
Perez said Pasadena is caught up in the “national epidemic of violence” which has arisen during the worldwide pandemic.
“We have seen homicide rates greatly increase in the City of L.A. and other places,” said Perez. “Crime has increased and unfortunately, Pasadena, during this COVID period, has suffered the same fate.”
The Villa Parke area has been the scene of a number of violent incidents, including the shooting death of developmentally-disabled local man on November 13 and this week’s triple shooting, which left two dead and one fighting for his life.
Pasadena residents Cristino Medellin Avila, 51, and Aaron Perez Flores, 40, were killed in a 3 p.m. shooting Tuesday in the northeast section of the park near Parke Street and Los Robles Avenue, according to Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
Perez said that Pasadena has seen an 80% spike in gun violence in 2020, as compared to last year. The city has experienced over 50 violent incidents and more than 20 people have been shot, he said.
At the same time, Perez acknowledged the impact and influence of the social justice movement on policing in the last eight months.
Perez described a proliferation of guns circulating in the community.
“This year, we have seized close to 300 weapons, with over 100 of those out of people’s waistbands and their cars,” he said.
“I do realize the impact of the view of over-policing and trying to curtail the type of policing that we need to do at times to seize these weapons and stop the crimes,” Perez noted, saying, “We have done that.”
But Perez added that “Having done that, we still have continual gang problems.”
Perez told the meeting that the increase in gun violence is gang-related.
“The incidents that we’ve seen mostly relate recently to gang violence,” he said. “We are talking about our Latino and African-American gangs, and that has been problematic for us for the past several weeks.”
Perz said that the Villa Parke area has seen approximately seven incidents in the past six months, with three deaths and four others shot.
“That’s problematic for us,” he said.
Perez emphasized that recent victims “were not gang members.”
“We are doing our best to make these arrests,” Perez continued. “We have an outstanding group of homicide investigators that is spending time around the clock, going through all the video and information we can find as well”
Perez added that more patrol officers are currently assigned to the area.
“We are visible,” he said, but added, “We need to increase our visibility. We need to increase our enforcement in the area, but we also need to be very, very careful about the enforcement.”
Perez said he was mindful about “the impact on neighborhoods when we do have to conduct traffic stops and pedestrian stops.”
But, he said, “This will be important for us, to continue to seize these weapons and stop crime before it occurs. And so I hope that we have the community’s support.”
Perez also emphasized that while the department’s official gang unit has been eliminated, community members will begin to see more police presence in the community along with more Spanish-speaking officers on foot and bike patrol.
“We want to ensure that we respond quickly, and that will be here in the community,” he said, adding that residents “will see more officers on foot walking through this community.
“You’ll see us in the cars,” he continued. “So please stop for a moment and talk to them, give them a wave and have a conversation. I think it’s important that we connect as one as we stop this crime.”
Both Perez and Mermell also agreed that while current violent crimes are high, the City overall is actually experiencing a historically low crime rate, with a decrease in overall crime. Perez told the meeting, coincidentally, that moments before the meeting began, a gang member was arrested nearby and a weapon was seized.
“We want people to know that Pasadena is a safe city,” said Mermell.
In response to community questions, Mermell also told the meeting that the City is looking into rewards, providing security cameras for HOAs, and speed humps for streets in the Villa Parke area.
“The City Council will be looking closely at a number of these issues and discussing them at our next meeting December 14,” said Gordo.