A forum hosted and run by young people in Merced had the mayoral candidates fielding questions about relations between police and South Merced residents.
Young people involved with Building Healthy Communities and Merced Organizing Project wrote and asked the questions during the forum Thursday at Yosemite High School in Merced. Candidates Mike Murphy, Necola Adams, Noah Lor and Josh Pedrozo were asked how they could help young people feel safe on the south side of town.
Murphy said it is the responsibility of local governments to help people feel safe, but added that residents must also pitch in. “We have law enforcement officers and they can do their best when we have partners in the community,” he said.
Murphy, a councilman and business attorney, said a community policing approach from officers is an important ingredient, but added that neighbors should get to know one another. “You can be most effective when you get to know your neighbors, when you’ve formed a Neighborhood Watch, when you look out for each other,” he said.
Murphy has pledged to add three to five police officers per year, if he is to win the election. The department, which had 111 officer in 2007, has 87 sworn officers on duty.
Murphy has also pushed to add funding to the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County so that the facility can open on weekends.
Community policing was mentioned by all candidates as a key element for improved relations between police and the community.
“I don’t believe being a police state is the answer to the problem,” Adams said. “What I believe is we need more activities for young people to do.”
Adams, who caters through The Cookie Lady’s Bakery & Cafe, said teenagers have “nothing to do” in Merced. To that point, another question asked what leaders could do to scrub Merced of the unfortunate nickname “Merdead.”
“That is the reason they join gangs, that is the reason they get into trouble, because there’s no alternatives,” she said.
“More police do not make you feel safe, and especially at this day and time, we have problems with officers,” she said.
The last annual report from the Merced Police Department showed police receive more calls from central Merced than south Merced, which Adams noted.
Lor, too, pushed community policing, saying not all neighborhoods are likely to ask for help from officers.
“Our parents and families (on) the south side (are) not going to call,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have that many calls. We know that (the) south side has a lot of crimes that (go) unreported.”
The only sitting councilman to vote against the city’s most recent budget was Lor, he noted, saying it didn’t include enough funding for youth programs in the Parks and Recreation Department.
“We need to get back to community policing,” he said. “We need to put more money into parks and rec.”
Pedrozo, a history teacher, said he has been a longtime supporter of more resource officers for school campuses. “I think having student resource (officers) on campuses is very proactive in making sure that people, students and young people, know that police aren’t the bad guy,” he said.
Another aspect of improving relations, he said, would be to work with local school districts to implement recreation programs on campuses after school.
The VIPER funding Merced County received from the state should help officers be proactive, he said.
“I don’t believe in a police state and I don’t think that helps anybody out,” he said. “The officers that we do have, you know, we’ve authorized more ... the police department wants to do more things in regards to predictive policing.”