As all of our local LAPD representatives will tell you, crime is up all over the city this year, in every category…and, unfortunately, some of that increase has been felt in our local neighborhoods. (According to Wilshire Division Captain Tony Oddo, there have been five additional robberies this year in the area from Wilshire to Melrose and Highland to Fairfax, as well as seven additional aggravated assaults, three homicides and many burglaries and other property crimes. Those numbers are actually still down significantly from crime rates 20 years ago but, as Oddo acknowledges, people care more about what’s happening today than they do about the seemingly distant past.)
Two of our local neighborhoods – Miracle Mile and La Brea-Hancock – have begun to organize to fight crime more proactively in their areas, and both held neighborhood meetings on the subject this week. The Miracle Mile Residential Association meeting welcomed 85-100 people at the Westside JCC on Monday night, and the La Brea-Hancock Homeowners Association involved about 15 residents in a local back yard on Tuesday.
At both meetings, designed to represent fresh attempts to activate and engage neighbors, both residents and Wilshire Division police personnel discussed current crime problems and how both neighbors and LAPD can work together to solve the current crime issues.
The Big Issues
As noted above, crime is up all over the city, and our neighborhoods are not immune. LAPD Wilshire Division Captain Tony Oddo, speaking at Tuesday’s La Brea-Hancock meeting, noted that the biggest increases in our division have been along Melrose Ave., between La Brea and Fairfax. In that district, he said, one of the biggest problems has been related to “distracted walking” – suspects have frequently spoken of how they will wait for neighborhood bars to close, then follow people who are walking home after drinking. Very often, those people will be reading something on their phones as they walk, making it easy for the criminals to run up, grab the phone and get away quickly. “Criminals are not stupid,” Oddo said, and they look for easy targets. And that’s true with other kinds of crime as well – up to 40% of burglary or property crime reports, La Brea-Hancock resident and LAPD Wilshire Division Community Police Advisory Board Co-Chair Frank Rosato told the Buzz last week, note that an unlocked window or door provided an opportunity for the crime.
At this week’s meetings, these problems were discussed, along with problems with police responsiveness, lack of resources and high staff turnover…and also issues with neighbors, many of whom are hard to reach and engage, and simply reluctant to get involved unless something happens to them personally.
What Residents Can Do
At both meetings, however, the focus was very much on what residents can do, individually and together, to help reduce crime, and improve crime response in their neighborhoods. Most of the same measures were mentioned at each gathering.
First, advised both Captain Oddo at the La Brea-Hancock meeting, and Senior Lead Officer Hebel Rodriguez at the Miracle Mile meeting, people need to “harden the target” whenever possible. For residents, that can mean:
- Installing security cameras…in back yards as well as front yards (if a would-be burglar is shown in a back yard, said Rodriguez, that already counts as the crime of trespassing, whether or not the person later breaks into the house). Also, make sure cameras are high definition, and can show facial details, even at night.
- Install lights around your house – bright enough to illuminate critical areas, but not so bright that they irritate your neighbors (motion-activated lights are particularly good, and some models come with cameras attached that start recording any time the light is activated)
- Install (and use!) alarm systems, which really do send burglars fleeing when they go off.
- Get one or more dogs, and let the dog(s) out if you see a stranger in the yard.
- Use “Faraday bags” (or even metal coffee cans) to shield your phone, electronic vehicle keys and other devices from remote access or activation while you’re home.
- Consider subscribing to a private patrol service (such as ADT, ACS or SSA), which does not replace LAPD response to crimes in progress (always call the police when you see something happening), but which can supplement police services by investigating suspicious activity, helping to detain a suspect until police arrive, or even providing residents with escorts to their home or cars. Also, if enough residents (generally about 300 households) in a given neighborhood subscribe to the service, a dedicated car can be provide for just that neighborhood. Not all residents can afford such services, but for those who can, Rosato said he considers it “the cost of living in Los Angeles right now.”
Rodriguez said all of those measures can be very effective. “We’ve seen crime go down when all these things are in place,” he said on Monday.
Also, in addition to the list above, both residents and city officials at both meetings this week stressed that it’s extremely important for neighbors to get to know each other, get involved in their communities, keep an eye on their streets and band together in crime prevention efforts. “The more we do this, the more we work together, the harder it is to come into Miracle Mile to commit a crime,” said Miracle Mile meeting organizer Kari Garcia, who says she was pushed into action by two recent incidents at her home.
Garcia is also currently working on recruiting neighborhood watch block captains for all 51 blocks in Miracle Mile. She has 13 volunteers so far, but says her goal is to have every block signed up by the MMRA’s annual meeting in January. “We need to change the culture, need to make it not enticing to come and break your door down,” said Garcia on Monday.
Also, in addition to getting to know your neighbors and watching what’s going on on your own blocks, speakers at both meetings urged that residents get to know their LAPD Senior Lead Officers and city council field deputies. Liz Carlin, field deputy for Council Member Herb Wesson, agreed at the Monday meeting, saying, “We are your partners in this and can only do that working together.”
Finally, officials at both meetings urged everyone to make sure that any and all crimes are actually reported to the police…and clarified that posting on NextDoor.com or other social media about suspicious activity or an actual crime, or simply calling LAPD, are not the same as filling out a crime report. Official reports are the only way crimes are logged by LAPD, and the only way that they will show up in statistics that help the police target their crime-fighting efforts. “If you don’t report the crime, it didn’t happen,” said Oddo very bluntly at Tuesday’s meeting.
Who You Gonna Call?
If you see suspicious activity, or a crime in progress, do call LAPD, even if you have already called a private security company, cautioned the speakers at this week’s meetings. Also, it’s important to know how and where to call. First of all, 911 should only be used for potentially life-threatening situations (e.g. an intruder currently on your property or in your home, or a robbery in progress). Also, the kind of phone you call from does make a difference. Land line calls to 911 go directly to LAPD dispatch, which can react immediately. Cell phone 911 calls go through a California Highway Patrol routing system, which can add minutes to a critical response. If you are out and about and need to make a 911 call, responses may be faster if you go to a local home or business and borrow their land line to make the call.
Also, if you are calling to report something that is not a current life-or-death emergency (e.g. a burglary after the suspects have left the premises, motor vehicle thefts, thefts from a vehicle, etc.), always use the citywide non-emergency dispatch number 1-877-ASK-LAPD (1-877-275-5273).
Finally, DO NOT call your local police station if you want police dispatched. You can call or visit your local station later, to file an official crime report or to discuss matters with local officers or detectives…but the station is not equipped to dispatch personnel. Only 911 operators or the ASK-LAPD number can do that.
What Else You Can Do…and Shouldn’t Do
Officer Rodriguez noted that while immediate reporting of crimes is important, intervention in crimes in progress can be problematic. While it can be great to release dog into your yard if you see or hear an intruder, he said, it’s probably best not to confront the intruder yourself…and avoid escalating the situation in any way. “No one’s asking you to put your life on the line,” he said. “We need to take care of ourselves and our neighbors, but be smart about it.”
Captain Oddo agreed, and told his audience – as Rodriguez also did – that the police would rather individuals protect themselves, because they’ll be more useful as a good witness than as a victim.
Rodriguez also urged local residents to “think outside the box and be creative” in responding to suspicious activity on their blocks. For example, he said, if someone saw a stranger lurking around a neighbor’s house, then called all the other neighbors, who all came out into their yards at exactly the same time to water their lawns…the stranger would most likely depart very quickly, without completing whatever action he was contemplating.
In response to residents’ questions about how and when neighbors might have the right to use a gun on an intruder, both Rodriguez and Oddo urged extreme caution. First, said Rodriguez, shooting an intruder is only legal if it occurs inside your home – no one has the right to shoot someone in their yard, on the street, or who might be breaking into their car. And, second, cautioned both officers, if you own or are planning to purchase a gun, make sure you also get fully trained to use it…with confidence. A hesitant person with a gun risks having the criminal take the gun and turn it on them, which could make a bad situation even worse.
Also, finally, the police representatives told residents to be especially wary of gun use if the police have been called. Officers arriving on the scene, seeing a non-uniformed person pointing a gun at someone else, or two people pointing guns at each other, have no way of distinguishing the “good guy” from the “bad guy.” And they will have to respond as if both are potentially “bad.”
What LAPD is Doing About Neighborhood Crime
In addition to tips on how residents can help deter crime in their neighborhoods, many attendees at both neighborhood meetings this week wanted to know what LAPD is doing to help fight the problem.
Both Oddo and Rodriguez explained that LAPD uses “predictive policing” – based on recent crime statistics – to estimate where certain types of crimes are most likely to occur, and to strategically deploy department resources to those locations. Oddo said that he looks at daily crime statistics every day, and compares the daily stats to weekly, monthly and yearly stats to help identify both patterns and “unique MOs.” He also consults daily with captains in other divisions and nearby cities, to compare notes, information and trends.
In addition, LAPD uses a number of special units – such as one devoted to gang activity and a new team to handle calls and issues connected to homelessness (which make up a very large percentage of all LAPD calls).
More specifically, if there are certain kinds of crimes, or increased activity in certain areas, LAPD can increase patrols in those areas until things settle down again.
And there are other, more creative kinds of deterrents as well – for example, Rodriguez described how he and other local officers recently visited the homes of repeat offenders in the areas, just to introduce themselves and make the offenders aware that their presence is known.
Finally, on the subject of why LAPD responses can seem slow at times – even for emergency calls – Oddo explained that although he would like to be able to put more people on the street, city resources are finite. So, for example, if seven cars are deployed to patrol the division (Wilshire division contains about 170,000 residents in an 11-square-mile area) during a given shift, they may all start out on the street and available to respond to calls, but as the day or night goes on, one or two cars may wind up taking arrested suspects downtown to be booked, another one or two may be tied up filling out reports at the local station, and others might be out responding to other calls. Also, if another nearby division winds up with all of its cars assigned to a breaking emergency (e.g. chasing a homicide suspect), cars from Wilshire Division may be diverted to that other division to handle other emergency calls in that area. So all of that could potentially mean that no cars available to respond to a call at the moment it comes in…and then calls begin to stack up in a response queue, with less urgent matters having to wait until the more urgent ones are dealt with.
In the end, both meetings maintained a mostly positive tone, with teamwork being the key message in both cases. Residents were urged to get involved and take positive actions (not just complaining about crime on social media), and city officials stressed the importance of communication and partnership. Most importantly, said Rodriguez, even when crime happens, it’s important to keep it in perspective. “Don’t stop living,” he said.
For those who would like to learn more about local crime deterrence – what’s being done, what can be done, and what individuals can do – the Wilshire Division Community Police Advisory Board (CPAB) meets on the third Thursday of each month, including this Thursday, October 19, at 7 p.m. at the Wilshire Station. Also, there will be a Wilshire Division open house on Sunday, October 29 (see flier below for details).
And, finally, you can also view a video of the full Miracle Mile Residential Association crime meeting, from Monday night, at https://youtu.be/DD-T8CGcADU