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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 6:17 pm | Fair 59º


Santa Barbara Police Beat Coordinators Join Residents for Walk Through West Downtown

Neighbors discuss concerns about graffiti, vandalism and violence, as officers reach out to the community in an effort to improve the city's quality of life

Walking through the streets of West Downtown on Wednesday, two beat coordinators from the Santa Barbara Police Department talked with, and mostly listened to, residents regarding their concerns about the neighborhood.

Officers Jon Reyes and Kasi Beutel, two of the beat coordinators recently added to the city’s policing effort, are reaching out to the community by walking through neighborhoods and talking with residents.

A recent increase in tagging and vandalism has been a concern for West Downtown resident Sharon Byrne, who led the beat coordinators, a handful of residents and Mayor Helene Schneider through a portion of the neighborhood.

“Things have been good here for the past three years, but they’re starting to go downhill again,” Byrne said.

She said she has seen more gang graffiti spring up in the area during the past few weeks, and is hopeful the beat coordinators can help stem the problem.

The area was plagued by violence in 2009, and neighbors were shocked when 22-year-old Baldemar Leal was found stabbed to death in February of that year in a gang-related incident on the 400 block of De la Vina Street.

That murder occurred just outside the home of Christina Pizarro, who joined Wednesday’s walk.

Hundreds of people in the neighborhood rallied and marched to protest the violence, and a neighborhood watch became active in the neighborhood and police patrols were increased.

“Things have improved tremendously,” Pizarro said. “But it needs to be a continuous process.”

Wednesday’s participants began their walk gathered in front of the Elizabeth Gordon Gallery on Gutierrez Street. Owner Heidi Ferguson talked with Beutel and Reyes about the vandalism she and other stores on the block have seen recently.

Initials and other designs had been etched into the gallery’s glass windows, including on one windowpane where Ferguson displays art from local elementary students.

Next door, Harlequin’s Theatrical Supply and D’Angelo Pastry & Bread also had windows etched.

“It’s everywhere, and it seems to come in waves,” Ferguson told Beutel and Reyes.

As the group walked down the street, Pizarro explained that she and others in the neighborhood applied for a grant to install more streetlights in the area.

The lights, funded by a community development block grant, have been installed in a four-block radius of the neighborhood, but Pizarro said she has been told that the city doesn’t have the money to actually turn them on. For her and other neighbors, the lack of lighting in the neighborhood is an issue of public safety.

“I think it would really be in the city’s interest to find this funding,” she said.

Farther on the walk, Pizarro pointed to signs of city success in the area. The redone bridge at Haley and De la Vina has not been tagged since it was completed in 2011, and Pizarro credits the streetlights that were installed as part of the project.

The group detoured down an alley where an increasing number of transients were reported to have been sleeping at night, and where Pizarro said they’ve discovered some “alarming trash,” such as used needles.

Liquor stores selling to inebriated people, as well as to minors, also continue to be a problem in the area.

As the group made their way down Chapala Street, they stopped in front of the Salvation Army, and Executive Director Mark Gisler came out to offer an impromptu tour of the facility.

As people continue to see beat coordinators in the neighborhoods, “a lot problems will go under the rug,” West Downtown resident Tony Vasallo told the coordinators.

For Byrne, she said she has learned to be visible in the neighborhood since that first violent incident.

“We love that the neighborhood sees us walking together,” she said of the officers.

Beutel said being out on foot has been crucial.

“We really appreciate getting calls asking, ‘Will you walk with us?’ or ‘Will you come speak to our neighborhood watch group?’” she said. 

To contact a beat coordinator about issues in your neighborhood, call the Police Department at 805.897.2300.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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