Neighborliness Can Be the Best Defense

They would have been friends anyway, but it's nice that Gloria Lintermans and Leslie Ann Nichols share an interest in fashion. Gloria writes a syndicated fashion column; Leslie owns a wardrobe company that caters to the studios. It's a bonus, especially for Gloria, that they also share the same dress size. "It's usually me going over to Leslie's," she admits.

Their friendship, however, has always been more substance than style. For 18 years now, they've been the best of neighbors. Gloria and Leslie have commiserated over their respective divorces and, more important, they have watched over each other's kids--like the time Leslie caught one of her boys smoking cigarettes with Gloria's 10-year-old son.

That was a decade ago. Their friendship has endured even as kids moved on and the neighborhood lost some of its neighborliness. It is only now, Gloria and Leslie say, that neighbors are acting like neighbors again.

That's the good news. The bad news is that it took shock treatment to make a difference. It all began just after midnight March 20, when a new neighbor, Dr. Paul Hackmeyer, was shot three times in an apparent robbery attempt outside his home on Addison Street.

The next morning, Leslie and Gloria decided to do something about it.

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It isn't as if Neighborhood Watch was a foreign concept, but people in this affluent pocket of North Hollywood had never before shown much interest. After the shooting, Leslie and Gloria called the police and City Hall and passed out flyers inviting neighbors to a meeting at Gloria's house on April 4.

More than 60 people showed up, an extraordinary turnout for such meetings. At Gloria's house they met Police Capt. Richard Waller, the new commanding officer of the North Hollywood Division, and Senior Lead Officer Ed Brentlinger, who coordinates Neighborhood Watch programs in the area. They also met Mark Spellman, a field deputy for Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

Most important, they met each other. For, as Brentlinger explains it, nothing is more critical to making the LAPD's "community-oriented policing" efforts work than for law-abiding folks to watch each other's backs.

"That's the only way this is going to work," says Brentlinger, a 20-year police veteran. "If the people don't get involved, we've lost. That's not just we as a Police Department. That's we as a community."

The neighbors made progress on a number of fronts. Brentlinger signed up eight new block captains. Spellman promised to help improve the area's street lighting. One neighbor took it upon herself to organize pepper spray classes for interested neighbors. Several neighbors said they intended to heed Brentlinger's advice and have outdoor lighting activated by motion sensors installed at their homes. They agreed to meet again to discuss the possibility of hiring a private security patrol.

The neighbors were also encouraged by the appearance of Hackmeyer, who is making a strong recovery from his wounds, including one that passed within millimeters of his heart.

"It's much easier to recruit people when something like that happens," said Brentlinger, who now has more than 1,100 North Hollywood residents involved in Neighborhood Watch efforts.

One of the questions that always comes up after such a bloody encounter is whether guns would make a neighborhood more or less safe. In a previous article concerning Hackmeyer, I reported that he had bought a gun for home protection. One reader wrote a letter suggesting that if concealed weapons permits were easier to obtain--and if Hackmeyer had been armed that night--the results of his encounter might have been different.

Brentlinger expresses ambivalence about the value of guns for self-protection, saying that what might be safe for some people would be a disaster for others. Hackmeyer himself agrees that he wouldn't like his chances in a shootout between an obstetrician and a criminal. If living in Los Angeles meant carrying a gun, he says, it would probably be time to move out of the city.

Gloria Lintermans and Leslie Ann Nichols are adamant about their aversion to guns. That's one reason they voted against the recall of state Sen. David Roberti. And before neighbors pick up arms, they suggest they pick up the phone and organize a Neighborhood Watch.

There's just another thing neighbors have to do to make their neighborhood better, Officer Brentlinger says.

Getting involved is one thing. Staying involved is something else.

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