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Alarmed by crime, residents demand help from city; town hall to be set

Alarmed by crime, residents demand help from city; town hall to be set
An overflow crowd of La Cañada Flintridge residents attend the Public Safety Commission meeting to air concerns about a spate of recent break-ins, including two armed home invasion robberies. (Photo by Matt Sanderson)

Two recent home invasion robberies drew about 70 unnerved citizens to this week's La Cañada Flintridge Public Safety Commission meeting where, following a nearly three-hour discussion, commissioners laid plans for a town hall meeting on crime prevention.

Several attendees had to stand in the first floor lobby at City Hall, as all seats and standing room inside Council Chambers were filled by residents, several of whom said they no longer feel safe in their longtime homes. They suggested a wide range of actions, from forming a local police department in lieu of contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to better street lighting and speed humps. There was also talk of some neighborhoods feeling forced to hire private security patrols.

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A Flintridge area couple and their adult son were tied up at gunpoint in a Dec. 31 home invasion robbery sheriff's detectives are investigating along with a similar incident that took place less than a mile away in the 800 block of Inverness Drive earlier that month. According to the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, the New Year's Eve robbery took place at a home on the 800 block of Flintridge Avenue.

In both instances, the victims were approached by multiple suspects wearing ski masks, gloves and dark clothing, at least one of whom was armed with a handgun. Victims were tied up at gunpoint and left while the suspects ransacked their properties and made off with cash and, in the Flintridge Avenue robbery, a vintage handgun.

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According to a staff report presented by Christina Nguyen, a city management analyst, there is evidence suggesting that as a result of recent changes in state law, mainly Assembly Bill 109, propositions 47 and 57, there has been a significant increase in property-related crimes with San Gabriel Valley. Contrary to public perception, La Cañada Flintridge has experienced a decrease in residential burglaries over the last five years, with December 2017 showing a 27% decline in residential burglaries and a continued downward trend in the last two years. The city has maintained a longstanding working relationship with the sheriff's department.

In addressing the changes in state law, the city has become a member of "Taking Back of Our Community Coalition," with a mission to address the deficiencies of AB 109, propositions 47 and 57 and its direct impact on cities throughout the San Gabriel Valley. The city has assisted residents in establishing neighborhood watch programs with training from the Sheriff's Department, as well as partnered with Ring.com to offer residents discounted video doorbell devices and other home security products. The public safety budget has increased to allow for resources for more directed patrols, according to the report, as well as a community services assistant position to relieve deputies of administrative duties and free up their time for more field patrols.

Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station Captain Chris Blasnek, who published a letter in the Valley Sun earlier this month to address the incidents and steps being taken, reiterated he's doubled their resources in the city. The department is using the Sheriff's Major Crimes Bureau-Burglary Task Force to assist in solving burglaries and catch suspects. There are more marked units in the community, and the city acquired another vehicle equipped with an automated license plate reader.

"I'm here to fight the fight with you," Blasnek told the crowd. "I've worked in a lot of places. Thirty-five years with this department. Worked in jails three different times. I know these [criminals]. I know them well. They are getting out [of jail] way too early. Sometimes they won't change."

Blasnek said La Cañada is still a safe community, and noted that the city having its own police department rather than contracting with the Sheriff's Department would be more expensive.

"With worker's compensation, the sheriff's department absorbs liability," he said. "You're basically paying as a contracted item. You know our hearts are in it. We're with you on this. I apologize to everyone who's been a victim.

"Burglary calls are getting higher priority now," he said. "We're trying to get there as quick as possible. Make sure your [security] systems are working," he said, strongly encouraging residents to install live video feeds.

He added the Sheriff's Department will work on holding more regular "coffee with deputies" programs in the community, and will launch a "see something, say something" campaign.

Public Safety Commissioner Marilyn Smith noted that since 2015 the commission has wanted to conduct a wider community awareness and crime education campaign. "This certainly has been something on our minds," she said. "The fact that it took two home invasion robberies for people to turn out and voice their concern, that's the shame. Public safety is an ongoing issue. We can spearhead the town hall meeting. We're galvanized and things will happen."

Commissioner Terrance J. Manning said he sees a great need for a town hall meeting.

“Bring subject matter experts in to go into great detail on those issues,” he said. “Go into what can you do to make your neighborhood safer. Dog walkers are making the neighborhood safer. And then focus on how we can help the Sheriff’s Department. There’s 6,000 homes. They can’t be everywhere.”

Matt Sanderson is a contributing writer to Times Community News

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