Long Beach plans to expand safe passage program at schools citywide – Press Telegram
Long Beach may soon expand its Safe Ride program, which aims to reduce violent crimes against students by providing them with a safe way to travel to and from campus, though it’s unclear when that might happen or how the city will fund it, according to a recent memo in the city council.
Eighth District Councilman Al Austin introduced the initial motion ordering city staff to explore expanding current safe-passage programs to the City Council in June, about a month after the brutal attack on a student walking from Jordan Middle School to Colin Powell Elementary.
“Children, as we all know, are our most valuable and vulnerable members of our community,” Austin said during a June council meeting, “and they should not have to endure violence or intimidation on their way to and from school.”
The board unanimously approved Austin’s motion. Police Chief Wally Habisch and Health and Human Services Director Kelly Collapy responded by co-authoring an Oct. 14 memo detailing the city’s options for expanding the program.
The safe passage program has historically been overseen by the Long Beach Police Department. The operation – which has been in place for almost two decades – assigns two police patrol cars to monitor five high schools before and after the school day to ensure an “active presence around the schools”, according to the memo.
Although on June 21, the city headquarters the report said the program is no longer in use, LBPD spokeswoman Alison Gallagher said Friday, Oct. 21, that the department’s program was never shut down.
“The program was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic while schools were operating remotely,” Gallagher said. “However, they have otherwise been used continuously to support our public safety efforts.”
Meanwhile, the health department recently created its own safe passage program at Washington High School. This program is run by “peacemakers” who participate in the community to create walking conditions for children, according to the note.
The Department of Health will expand this SPP to two other high schools, Linderberg and Franklin, with limited grant funding from the state.
And thanks to one-time funding from the Saving America Plan Act, the health department will further expand the program to Pauly and Jordan high schools — along with two other high schools that have yet to be determined.
All expansions are expected to be implemented by January.
But in addition to the health department’s already planned expansions, the memo also outlines three models for further developing SPP to further improve the safety of children across the city.
In the first — the LBPD model — each Long Beach high school would be supervised by one police officer in front of the school from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.; and near the end of school, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m
“Officers will demonstrate a visible presence that promotes interaction with students and school staff,” the memo said, “to provide a safe environment for students, parents and staff by suppressing criminal activity and reducing the likelihood of youth involvement in gang activity.” .”
Officers assigned to safe passage will be paid overtime, the memo said, with the estimated cost to the city being $154,421 to cover all five high schools.
The health department’s proposed model, in contrast, would use paid community members along established safe routes to and from school. Each school will have four to six volunteers who will work two-hour shifts and will also have to work with school administrators to identify hot spots for dangerous activity.
Under the plan, the health department would also contract with a third-party provider to coordinate SPPs between communities to “share best practices, review data to ensure program accuracy, and volunteers are properly trained and recognized,” the memo said.
Each SPP health department will be open throughout the school year – and will host winter and summer activities to strengthen community engagement while schools are on break. The estimated total cost at each campus is $242,389.
And in the latest hybrid model — which would incorporate best practices from both departments — health department volunteers would walk school routes with a police officer on site to monitor before- and after-school sites, the memo said.
“Using this collaborative model,” the memo said, “law enforcement, LBUSD, local community organizations, city departments, students and their families, and community members will meet regularly to ensure program effectiveness and address concerns.”
The memo also said that both data and community input would be used as a guide to identify schools most affected by violence.
That plan would cost $396,810 per campus, according to the memo, which noted that additional funding would be needed if the board decides to move forward with any of the three.
Long Beach is already facing a significant budget shortfall for the next few years. City staff initially estimated a $28.1 million general fund deficit in the fiscal year 2024 budget, but with recent council approval two new employment contractsthat number now stands at about $32.6 million.
The City Council will decide which model – if any – will be implemented and how these changes will be paid for. It is unclear whether the council will revisit the topic before the end of the year.