D. Martinez / SFVS

Pacoima residents, many of them parents with children who attend Pacoima Charter school attended a community meeting with the LAPD Foothill Division.

The meeting was organized following the killing of a 15-year-old identified as Willy Barrios, a resident of Pacoima.  The teenager was found about 2:20 a.m. Monday, Oct. 26, at Van Nuys Boulevard and Norris Avenue.

Police told residents who gathered in the elementary school’s auditorium that over the last four months gang activity has increased and they urged residents to be involved in reporting activity. 

The killing of the teenager was described by police as an “execution.” They told residents that he had an altercation earlier in the day and later when confronted, as he turned to leave he was shot in the back of the head.

Police also said however,  that they considered this killing an “isolated incident;  there is no ongoing gang war and described it as being tragic,”  but pointed to statistics at the same time indicating that overall, gang violence was down 10 percent compared to last year.

Police told parents that their children were safe and said they were increasing patrols in the area and have made the area surrounding the school a priority.

Nevertheless, residents expressed concern with the safety of their children walking to and from school and complained of nearby drug activity and police response times. Police urged residents to provide any information they may have that could assist them with their investigation of the homicide.

Many residents expressed gratitude to the police department but at the same time raised concerns about delayed response times. 

“We see drug activity going on and we see it so often that my son-in-law can tell me  who the dealers, customers and  ‘spotters’ are.  Men drive up near the fast food restaurants  in expensive cars and make their deals.  Even if we call you [the police] by the time you respond, it’s too late,” said one resident.

Capt. Ernest Eskridge along with the other officers emphasized to residents that “they were the eyes and ears in the community.  We are a team, we need your help.”

Eskridge said that they are seeking any possible video that may be out there. Police said that residents can film the activity from a distance but didn’t recommend engaging or confronting the activity.

LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Green, Valley Division,  stressed that these crimes are committed by a very small percentage of the population.

“We are here to protect you, over the last ten years the LAPD has changed dramatically and we continue to work on our relationship with the community.  We in this community understand that this kind of violence will not be tolerated but the tragedy is not only that we lost the victim but whoever did this will be lost to their families,” Green said. 

“We have got to come together as a community and say enough is enough and I’m asking you as we go forward to develop a relationship, I want you to be as proud of the LAPD as you are of the Lakers or whatever football team we get into Los Angeles,” Green said.

Some residents weren’t impressed with the meeting.  “I’ve heard this [from police] for so many years, and have gone to so many of these kinds of meetings” said longtime community activist Jenaro Ayala, who said that he was concerned that more people would now be stopped by police without cause.

Resident Georgina Carranza said it’s not just the police but parents also needed to be more involved and take more responsibility for what was going on with their children.

“Walking as I have with my grandchildren, as much as we would like to blame the police department, if you don’t walk your kids to school and don’t shadow your kids enough they can get into trouble.” 

Carranza said kids that are left on their own to take care of themselves can fall victim to negative forces. 

“If you allowed your kids to have  so  much freedom, then they can abuse it.   And if we don’t pay attention to our kids and there is danger waiting outside for them, and they’ll grab our kids.”

Carranza said that many kids  are labeled as “troubled kids” but she doesn’t see it that way.

“I see a kid with a problem but we need to help them. We can’t afford to lose them, they are our next generation.  Sadly the support for these kids just isn’t there.” 

Carranza, who addressed the residents in Spanish, urged the placement of more after school programs and funding. 

“But, we also need parents to volunteer and be part of the programs, not use them as just time for themselves.  We need to require that parents are involved and take charge of their kids. We need to be like angels watching over our kids, we are only here for a short time.”

Carranza said she sometimes takes on the role of a surrogate grandmother and that when she sees a child that doesn’t seem to be getting attention, she tells them that she is “watching them and will be checking on them with their teacher” and they respond favorably.  “They always say, OK, Mrs. Carranza.’ “

It was clear that the police and residents agreed that the killing of Barrios was a tragedy and it will  take the entire community to tackle the problem.

“He was a child that we missed that we should have all caught, the school, the family, the community that’s why we are all here now,” one officer said.

Another community meeting is scheduled in early December.