NORTH HILLS : Residents Criticize ‘Ghost Town’ Guards
Arguing that the guards should be armed, residents and police in North Hills Tuesday sharply criticized a security company hired by the city to protect a string of North Hills apartments that became a “ghost town” when abandoned after the Northridge earthquake.
“The area looks worse now than when the security guards came on,” said Los Angeles Police Officer Henry Acosta, who patrols the nine apartment buildings on Orion Avenue. “These guys are sitting there while people break through their security system and enter the buildings.”
“I’ve seen fires inside the buildings where vagrants cook and the guards are taking no action,” said Eddie Gonzalez. “I have even offered the phone in my house for them to call the police.”
The frustrations were expressed at a meeting of the North Hills Task Force, where about 40 residents, city officials, apartment managers and social service agency heads gathered at the Sepulveda Methodist Church on Rayen Street.
At the center of this tempest was Inter-Con Security Systems, an Alhambra-based security company that has been providing two unarmed guards at the abandoned complexes since July.
Ninety percent of the $600,000 security contract is paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 10% by the city.
Earlier this summer, the federal agency granted $2.8 million to the city to board up, fence off and protect 12 designated “ghost towns” that have been abandoned since the quake, making them magnets for prostitutes, drug dealers and vagrants.
The contract is managed by the city of Los Angeles Housing Department, which hopes to use the opportunity granted by the quake while the buildings are abandoned to contact owners, banks and managers to clean up the apartment complexes.
But Devonshire police station Capt. Vance Proctor said that vagrants and drug dealers must be kept out of the buildings before any cleanup can be accomplished, and that means arming the guards.
“As long as federal money is around, we’ve got to get them to do the job they are paid to do and get them armed to do the job,” he said.
Although Inter-Con operations manager Bud Larguier Jr. told Proctor and residents that he was “distressed” by reports that his guards turned their backs on crime occurring in the apartment buildings, he said the city contract does not call for them to engage criminals.
“Our guys are not law enforcement officers,” Larguier said. “They are in an observe and report role.”
Sam Luna, director of the city Housing Department’s neighborhood recovery program, added that the city was warned by police in Foothill Station against using armed guards, since confrontations with weapons could escalate into a situation that leads to a lawsuit.
Despite their differences, Larguier promised to meet with city officials, residents and police to come to a solution, including the possibility of arming the guards.
“Is the system perfect? Absolutely not,” Larguier said. “If the city wants us to, we would have armed guards out in the next few days.”