There are two Whittiers. There is the Whittier of lush trees, wide and winding streets, golf courses and country clubs. Then there is the Whittier of graffiti and turf wars, where litter and blankets cover the streets; where surveillance footage captures criminals checking car doors at night and where midday shootouts happen in Uptown.
Our politicians seem to live in the Whittier of yesteryear while we, the residents of District 2, live in a city that seems to be getting worse by the day.
According to a recent survey by the City of Whittier, 52% of respondents indicated that “A feeling of personal safety” is missing from Uptown Whittier - a perception brought upon by the rampant drug use and gang activity within and around Uptown.
Having obtained a single gang injunction (which is now being questioned by the courts) against Whittier Varrio Locos, Whittier officials have effectively declared victory on gang activity. Yet there are 12 other active gangs in greater Whittier still terrorizing local residents. Nonetheless, Whittier refuses to apply for state gang prevention and intervention grants; even though this funding would bring much-needed state dollars and support local youth and reduce gang membership.
Alarmingly, police response times have increased from 17:33 in 2013 to 22:45 in 2017. This increase can make a serious difference, especially for residents of West Whittier and the hills, which are furthest from police headquarters and City Hall.
At the same time, Whittier is removing less graffiti from year-to-year, dedicating only one full-time employee and one half-time employee to graffiti abatement throughout a city of 14.7 square miles. Anecdotally, most of the graffiti in Whittier is found in District 2, primarily in Uptown. This has resulted in a growing culture of lawlessness in these neighborhoods.
It’s not just the threat of gang violence or burglary that we need to worry about either. District 2 is one of the most dangerous areas for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to the Envision Whittier Existing Conditions Atlas.
While it is tempting to spend our time laying the blame at state initiatives, the Marines taught me that accountability means looking in the mirror when things go wrong. Before we go fixing problems hundreds of miles away, we should fix the problems here at home.
Let’s bring back the Uptown bicycle patrol team. Let’s hire the six police officers we need, both to fully staff our police department and also to conduct the targeted law enforcement the Whittier Police Department would like to do. Let’s apply for state gang prevention and intervention grants, bringing much-needed state dollars to Whittier. Let’s develop a robust Neighborhood Watch program, like the one I organized for my block, rather than making it a responsibility of just one community liaison officer.
With 750 residential units coming online at Nelles and another 100 between Five Points and Workman Mill Road, our already strained public safety system is approaching a breaking point. It’s time to stop living in denial and address the problem. Sticking our heads in the sand might work for City Hall, but in the rest of Whittier, we need real solutions to real problems.