More than 85 local residents joined in a Zoom-based town hall meeting organized by the Larchmont Boulevard Association last night to discuss recent crimes and safety issues in the Larchmont and adjacent areas. The session was moderated by Todd Warner, owner of the Tailwaggers pet supply store on Larchmont, who also serves as the Security Chairman for the LBA.
During the discussion, which featured updates from LAPD Wilshire Division Captain Sonia Monico, LADP Wilshire Division Senior Lead Officer Dave Cordova, and LAPD Olympic Division Senior Lead Officer Joe Pelayo, attendees focused mostly on two major issues: problems with the resident of a homeless encampment at Raleigh St. and N. Wilton Pl., and several people who appear to have been moving around the neighborhood, examining local homes and businesses, and possibly targeting them for burglaries. A number of tips and suggestions were also provided to help neighbors stay in touch and communicate most effectively about neighborhood safety issues.
Stats & Issues
First among the night’s speakers, Capt. Monico provided some crime statistics for the year so far in the western portion of the neighborhood, including two package thefts, four burglaries from motor vehicles, three residential burglaries, four business burglaries, a robbery at a local Bank of America, and a robbery in the parking lot of the Larchmont Blvd. Wells Fargo Bank, where a woman was pushed to the ground as robbers stole a bag of coins. All of these, Monico said, represent increases in the same kinds of crimes over the same period last year. “These are concerning for you,” she said, “and concerning to me.”
Meanwhile, Pelayo provided statistics for the eastern portion of the neighborhood covered by LAPD’s Olympic Division, including an “abundance” of 15 burglaries in the last month, with two “hot prowl” incidents (break-ins while someone is in their home). Luckily, in both of those cases, Pelayo said the suspects fled as soon as they realized the home wasn’t empty. Pelayo said this large number of burglaries has made the area the number one priority for Olympic Division right now, and extra patrols have been added.
As the discussion was opened to meeting attendees, many reported their own recent encounters with criminal activity, starting with Warner, who said someone with a knife pursued two of his employees two weeks ago. Warner said the employees were able to protect themselves by locking the store door so the man couldn’t enter, but as a result of this incident he now makes sure there are always at least two employees in the store at all times.
One resident of Raleigh St., near Wilton Pl., reported that a man who has lived in an encampment near that intersection has been there for many months. She said the man sells bicycles from the location, is frequently intoxicated, and the structures and trash he has accumulated create an unsafe environment. She also said she has reported the problems to city officials many times, but because the man has refused services, the city hasn’t been able to do anything.
Pelayo noted that representatives from City Council District 13 visited the resident again today, but he said unless the man is doing something illegal, the police can’t remove him.
CD 13 District Director Alejandra Marroquin reported that CD 13 does have a new three-person team working exclusively on homelessness in the district, and that staff are mapping every encampment in the district so they can engage with the residents to find them housing. Marroquin said the office is prioritizing encampments by their size and danger level but is also taking a new, more compassionate and humane approach relocations, to preserve the quality of life for all involved. She said 64 people have been housed so far using this strategy.
But that did not sit well with many residents in attendance, who said people are not being housed fast enough…and that a person disrupting the neighborhood like this shouldn’t have “more rights than the residents.” Another attendee called the response “disheartening,” and several attendees complained in the session’s chat section that City Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez’s approach isn’t working. “Step up to your job, Hugo!” said one disgruntled neighbor.
Several other neighbors also expressed frustration that a small meeting on homelessness with CD 13 Homelessness Director Patrick Mooney, which had been scheduled for earlier yesterday, was cancelled by the district after too many people expressed interest in attending. CD 13 Field Deputy Anais Gonzales said the session was originally intended for just five neighbors, and a larger meeting can be organized, but it will take more time to set up.
The other most-discussed issue of the evening was the recent appearance of several people who appear to be walking the neighborhood regularly to examine various homes and businesses as potential burglary targets.
Pelayo reported that several neighbors have seen an African-American man and woman walking a small white dog, going up and down driveways in the neighborhood. And Romi Cortier, who owns a salon on North Larchmont, said a young, well-dressed Black woman has rung the doorbell at the salon as many as 20 times per day recently, saying she has an appointment, which isn’t true. Larchmont Village resident Sam Uretsky said the same woman was seen taking pictures of a house on Lucerne Blvd. recently, and the home was burglarized the next day. Uretsky said he saw the woman again later, but when he asked what she was doing, she ran away. Finally, Stephanie Gee, who works at dr Pilates, said they had a former client who meets that description, who was banned a while back for not paying her bills…and while the woman disappeared for a while, Gee said she saw her in the area again this week.
Pelayo suggested that all of these people may be part of a burglary crew working in the area. He said that after targeting a specific property, a car driven by one crew member drops off two burglars at the targeted location, then circles the neighborhood while the burglars work very quickly, and then picks them up and drives away.
Tips and Solutions
Tips for preventing and reporting crimes were offered by both the LAPD representatives and community members at the meeting.
First, Monico urged people to “harden the target” by staying off their phones and paying full attention as they walk, especially when going between their car and a bank. She also urged business owners to remove cash from their tills, to use actual safes (which, unlike lock boxes, are bolted to the floor or wall), and to perhaps leave cash drawers open, with lights pointing at them at night, to fully demonstrate to would-be thieves before they break in that there is no cash on the premises.
Pelayo urged more community involvement, and said neighbors should definitely report any suspicious activity, such as people snooping around, to LAPD. He said he also looks forward to the return of in-person neighborhood association meetings, where he used to be able to interact with neighbors in person before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patricial Carroll, an LBA member, asked whether businesses on lower Larchmont have security cameras focused on the alley behind that section of businesses, and suggested that the LBA encourage its members to install cameras there, if they haven’t already.
Representatives of the SSA private security firm, which serves both LBA members and many local residents, also urged attendees who are their customers to call them as well as LAPD, when they have anything to report. SSA owner Terry Seagraves said the company encourages such calls, even when there’s just a suspicious person hanging around, and that his employees – all retired law enforcement officers – will first engage the person in conversation, which is often all it takes to encourage them to leave. Seagraves said the SSA personnel work as “force multipliers” in concert with LAPD, and can sometimes respond faster than the police.
LBA president John Winther reported that the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood have hired local “ambassadors” to walk their streets, keep an eye on things, and report suspicious activity. He said the LBA used to fund a security guard for the Larchmont shopping district, and suggested that might be something to look into reviving.
Captain Monico added that, in a similar vein, the LAPD has volunteer citizen patrols, and urged people to join if they’re interested. And she said she, too, supports LAPD engagement with the community in other ways, such as scheduling foot patrols and “Coffee with a Cop” events to increase LAPD visibility when there are problems in the neighborhood.
Monico added, however, that the best crime prevention technique is for neighbors to get to know each other and look out for each other, and several residents said they have been doing exactly that.
Larchmont resident Keith Johnson said he’s been sending out crime alert emails to Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association members to keep them informed….and Uretsky said the Lucerne Arden United Neighbors, in the area of Lucerne And Arden Between Beverly and Melrose, have built a group of almost 150 neighbors who share information among themselves, which has been very effective in building awareness and response in the area. Uretsky said they also worked with LAPD on a Walk With A Cop event in February.
Windsor Square Association board member Angie Szentgyorgyi said she’s been working to get that neighborhood’s Block Captain program up and running again, and Hancock Park Homeowners Association President Cindy Chvatal noted that the HPHOA also maintains a text chain, so block captains can very quickly send out texts to others on their list when there’s a problem in the neighborhood. (Chvatal also said she’d be happy to help other neighborhoods set up something similar in their own areas.)
Finally, in answer to several questions about how and when to report certain kinds of activity, the LAPD representatives made the following recommendations:
- Social media posts have their pros and cons because LAPD does not have the ability to interact with posts on platforms like NextDoor, it can’t make posts itself, and it can’t verify or correct information on posts other people make.
- Social media posts do not replace notifications to LAPD and (if you’re a customer) SSA.
- If you have a physical confrontation with someone, you’re allowed to do what’s “necessary and reasonable” to defend yourself or detain them until police arrive, but do call 911 for the fastest response, and don’t go to such lengths as using zip ties to restrain someone.
- In general, any time there’s a confrontation, a physical threat, if you need to protect yourself, if you see a crime in progress, or if someone is screaming in the street, call 911 first. Otherwise, for lower-risk situations, call the LAPD non-emergency line at 1-877-ASK-LAPD.
- Also in general, call 911 first in any of those situations, and then (if you’re a customer) call SSA second. If SSA gets there first, they will help hold the suspect until LAPD arrives.
- Finally, for issues with homeless residents, Gonzales said people should contact her, Marroquin, and/or Mooney for assistance:
CD 13 Field Deputy Anais Gonzales – [email protected] – (213) 886-4299
CD 13 District Director Alejandra Marroquin – [email protected] - (323) 496-0524
CD 13 Homelessness Director Patrick Mooney – [email protected]
The meeting ended with several comments of thanks from neighbors, and encouragement to hold another session soon.
If you weren’t able to attend the meeting, or would like to view it again, a recording is available here.