A spate of shootings in Pasadena over the course of the last few weeks has renewed calls for increased staffing at the Pasadena Police Department from community and members of the City Council alike. Last Sunday, Councilman Victor Gordo reiterated his previous call for increased staffing at the police department, stating in a message to constituents, “I ask you to join me in renewing that demand. I also am asking the Police Chief to increase patrols by utilizing overtime.” Pasadena Police Department spokesman Lt. Vasken Gourdikian attributed the shootings to a rise in gang violence across the San Gabriel Valley and community leaders have been quick to gather public forums on the issue, including one on Friday called by City Councilman John Kennedy and the non-profit Flintridge Foundation.
As I’ve walked the neighborhoods of District 7 in my current run for City Council, I’ve often told residents that among a sea of differing opinions on local issues, so long as we have a common vision for our City, I’m confident we’ll find a solution. The truth of the matter is that as a community we all strive to keep Pasadena safe and a likely solution will include a comprehensive plan to tackle the root causes of youth involvement in gangs—a plan that may or may not also include increased police staffing. Skip Hickabottom and Dale L. Gronemeier have previously tackled the “myth” of the Pasadena Police Department “understaffing” stating, “the staff’s status quo police budget is what Pasadena can afford, and its budget supports much higher police staffing than any nearby comparable city (including many smaller cities)…The demand to increase the number of officers is a knee-jerk reaction coming out of right field that is a non-starter.” Add this perspective to the one that says there doesn’t seem to be a consensus regarding marginal changes in police staffing and crime rates and it becomes clear that clarity lies somewhere in the midst of competing voices.
When I started SVN Public Relations in 2012, one of our first clients was former USC head football coach Pete Carroll’s non-profit organization, A Better LA (ABLA). ABLA’s gang prevention and intervention strategy focuses on working from the “inside-out”—that is, working within a community to effect change, rather than from the “outside-in.” I had the opportunity to work alongside ABLA-funded organizations like the Professional Community Intervention Institute (PCITI) created by Aquil Basheer (a former Black Panther). Basheer’s hardcore gang intervention program has been adopted as a model for gang intervention by the Los Angeles City Council and the organization has recently expanded to numerous cities throughout California, and also nationally and globally. If you have a chance to check it out, I’d highly recommend watching the documentary available on Netflix called “The Black Jacket.” I had the opportunity to see PCITI and Aquil Basheer in action—you can’t work with an organization like A Better LA and accept the notion that the solution to this problem lies solely in increased staffing in the police department. ABLA’s unlikely heroes—former gang members who know the ins and outs of the intricate relationships between different gangs, the specific stressors that lead to violence, and the reasons why young people join gangs—bridge the gap between at-risk members of the community and the law enforcement officers who work to protect us every single day.
As I learned from working with ABLA, there are a plethora of reasons why young people join gangs from finding a sense of identity in a community to which they don’t feel connected to finding family and fellowship where a home environment may fall short. As we approach the problem of gang violence in our communities, I’m reminded of a quote from Simon Sinek, motivational speaker and author of the book “Start with Why”—“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.”
So, on that note, I think we need to do just that…we need to start with why so we can end with how.
Sheena Tahilramani is a candidate for Pasadena City Council District 7 and is co-founder of Pasadena-based public relations agency, SVN Public Relations.
This op-ed originally appeared at www.pasadenanow.com on January 16, 2017.