The Huntington Beach Police Department and the Oak View neighborhood have embarked on what officials say is the beginning of a long relationship.
Chief Robert Handy fielded comments and questions from more than 60 residents during a town hall meeting in the Oak View Family Resource Center gym Thursday.
"I was very moved by how many people were here, the issues they had and their concern for the community," Handy said at the end of the two-hour discussion. "It puts a spring in my step as I leave to get more engaged in this part of Huntington Beach."
The Santa Ana-based nonprofit Community Service Programs organized and hosted the event as a way to bring together Handy, who has been the chief since December, and Oak View residents.
Oak View is a square-mile community on the north side of Huntington Beach. It has the highest concentration of Latinos in the city.
Elsa Greenfield, program director of Community Service Programs' Huntington Beach Youth Shelter, said Handy left a good impression on the residents and opened lines of communication.
"Everybody left feeling like they really matter," said Greenfield, who translated for residents and Handy. "I think that's priceless."
Concerns ranged from loitering and double parking to gang prevention and young people using medical marijuana.
Roberto Tapia, bilingual community outreach specialist with Ocean View High School, told Handy that he has seen a rise in overall drug use at the campus and wanted to know what police could do to help.
The chief replied that the department can't prevent people from outside the community from bringing in drugs and teens from getting hold of medicinal marijuana cards.
What police can do, Handy said, is to be more proactive and continue conversations with the neighborhood.
Diana Molina, 40, who said she had recently moved to Oak View, concurred with Tapia and added that athough the problems in the neighborhood won't go away overnight, Handy and the Police Department took a good first step by meeting with the residents.
"I'm glad he came because there are problems in Oak View that need to be resolved," she said. "It's a great chance for the community to meet the chief and the chief to meet the community and learn more about what's going well and what's not going so well."
Handy received invitations to walk around the neighborhood with residents, as well as participate in story time with the children.
As with Coffee with a Cop, which Handy brought to the city, the chief is working to have the casual dialogue between the neighborhood and the Police Department occur as often as possible.
"A lot of times, communities that have such a need and are struggling are the most passionate and concerned about what happens, and they're the most engaged with us," he said.