In north Palm Springs, a new dialogue and an old stalemate

Police have asked residents to step up and identify people taking part in violence. The community has asked for an investment in youth programs. Neither request appears likely to be fulfilled. So what now?

Are Palm Springs police asking too much of neighbors in Desert Highland Gateway Estates? That question appears to be at the center of tensions that have simmered for years.

Driving the news: Police, the area’s City Council representative, and roughly 70 residents of the neighborhood — including two dozen youth — met Tuesday evening at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center gymnasium to once again discuss violence in the area, as well as possible solutions. The conversation was familiar, as were the frustrations.

At issue: Gunfire is reported several times a month in the neighborhood, but also roughly a mile away along East San Rafael Drive. It sometimes has deadly results. Police say much of the violence is due to an ongoing feud between Black and Hispanic rival gangs.

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  • There are two specific “ambush zones” where the gunfire typically occurs: Along Granada Avenue in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood, and just outside the Sunrise Village mobile home park along East San Rafael.

  • In the case of the mobile home park, police say the suspected gang members involved are not necessarily residents. They typically come from Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City.

State of play: For years, police have asked Desert Highland residents to step up and identify people in their community taking part in the violence. The approach hasn’t worked.

  • Under the direction of new Police Chief Andy Mills, the department is trying a different approach. Tuesday night, law enforcement officials asked for specific suggestions about how they might bring peace of mind to the neighborhood, given the fact they can only enforce laws, not write them.

  • What they heard was a mix of practical and political: Community members suggested police increase their presence — perhaps through deploying a mobile command unit — use cameras in critical areas, and work to improve relationships with youth in order to increase trust.

Driving frustration: While the outreach Tuesday evening was appreciated, Desert Highland residents continue to ask why their community is being singled out and asked to solve an issue that is not unique to their neighborhood.

  • Police say community members there have more direct influence over youth, as well as a place to meet – the Unity Center – creating an easier pipeline to get their messages across.

Bigger picture: Desert Highland residents frequently ask why the city won’t commit to more proactive solutions in both afflicted neighborhoods. They specifically ask for youth programs that provide alternatives to the streets.

  • “You’ve got 2,500 Hispanics over there that we’ve given up on,” said Deiter Crawford, an outspoken leader in the neighborhood, in a meeting earlier this month. “We have to invest in that community as well. Stop giving money to the no kill animal shelter, to the pickleball community. (Hispanics) are 25% of the community and there is nothing being given to them. There are no facilities in that pocket of poverty.”

Bottom line: Police maintain it’s a chicken and egg situation: They are all for the city establishing youth programs, but without an end to the violence they fear it will be too dangerous for people of all ages to congregate in either neighborhood. Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner, who represents the District 1 neighborhood, said investments in the north end of the city would be hard to come by given the current makeup of the City Council.

  • “This is not like back in the day where you could get two gang leaders together and peace it out,” Lt. Frank Browning, who led Tuesday’s discussion, said earlier this month. “The kids in (the mobile home park), they just don’t care.”

  • “We do not have enough people on our City Council right now who are willing to invest … in this community,” Garner said Tuesday, adding, “We need to put pressure on the entire City Council to make the investments in this community going forward.”

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