Community leaders in Lompoc hosted a forum Monday evening addressing a recent spike in crime, with hopes of preventing more acts of violence.
"We need to do better for our youth. Parents should be able to send their kids to the store to get food and not have the fear that in doing so, they're going to be attacked, assaulted, or shot," Chief Joseph Mariani of the Lompoc Police Department said.
Chief Mariani says it’s been challenging for the department from an enforcement standpoint, as many specialized positions (like the gang and narcotics units) have been "shut down" so more officers can be out on patrol.
"I don't want to beat this dead horse but - it's common knowledge we are understaffed. We've made some great strides this past year and I am hoping we will be fully staffed by mid-year or the end of the year," Chief Mariani said.
Panelists fielded questions written in by community members as part of the discussion. One of those questions asked why the police department doesn't rely more on the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office for extra help.
Chief Mariani said in part: major incidents tap all of [the Lompoc Police Department's] resources. Last Wednesday when there were three shootings within one day, Mariani says they immediately reached out to the Sheriff's Office and deputies helped take calls to service. Mariani cautioned, however, the Sheriff's Office has their own obligations as well, providing service to the whole county.
Panelists, like Mayor Jenelle Osborne, say the police can't be the city's only solution.
"We don't solve these problems in silos — we don't solve these problems by putting the burden on a single entity, like the police department. This requires all of us to invest a portion of ourselves to change the lives of the children in the community," Osborne said.
Panelists also urged the need for the community to unify in order to see the most success.
"I think it's bringing back that kindness to each other in our community — whether it be just reaching out to your neighbor, checking on your friend's kids, just opening up that door to supporting one another in our community again," Chuck Madson of FUTURE said.
Organizations like True Vine Fellowship hope to use lived experience to show young people there is an alternative to gangs.
"I know there are brothers and sisters out there that grew up in similar home situations that I did, or experiencing some of things that I stepped out and experienced and I just believe I can be a relatable voice to a lot of them," James Earl Cray of True Vine Fellowship said.
Osborne is now advocating for people to get more involved in the city's budget discussions to help determine what services should receive more funding to better help with these goals.
Their next city council meeting is Tuesday.
Osborne also says she hopes to start conducting these forums once a month.