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Anti-Crime Activist Mourned as Police Urge Cautious Vigilance

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At a memorial service Monday morning honoring slain anti-crime activist James Richards, his Venice friends pledged to revive his controversial newsletter while local police officers cautioned neighbors from sharing his vigilance.

Richards, 55, was shot to death in front of his Oakwood home Wednesday after years of tenaciously patrolling that Venice district for drug dealers and gang crime. Police have announced no arrests or suspects in the case, but reported Monday that they had warned Richards two weeks before his killing to lie low after his truck had been vandalized and pelted with a brick.

At the start of a Roman Catholic Mass at the Church of St. Mark in Oakwood, Father Roderic Guerrini described Richards as a man who fought hard to keep the peace, but ultimately was struck down by “neighborhood troubles that continue.”

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Many people in the audience of about 100, including several uniformed police officers, had known Richards for years and wept openly and hugged one another during the ceremony.

A large flower arrangement addressed to Richards from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division sat in the church lobby.

“This is really a tough one,” Los Angeles Police Capt. Jim Miller said as he walked from the church, dabbing tears. “He was really working hard to make this a better place.”

Richards attended Catholic schools in Ohio, once considered joining a monastery and read the Bible daily, his companion, Cynthia Jean Moore, said.

During the service, Moore sat beside her son Karronnie Roberson, 28, daughter Cynthia Jean Moore, 19, and Richards’ only sibling, Rita Richards, 56, of Dayton, Ohio.

Richards was a longtime block captain, a member of a police advisory group, and one of a small network of residents who monitored gang activity. Many people believe his assailants targeted him for reporting on local gang crime.

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In his devotion to crime fighting, Richards walked a dangerous line, police said.

He slept next to police scanners and often arrived at a crime scene ahead of investigators. Neighbors said that they sometimes saw him circling the block, snapping photos of drug transactions and that he fearlessly confronted suspected drug dealers.

“Jim recognized the risk,” Miller said after the service. “But he felt the risks were worth the dangers. In this case, the risks caught up with him.”

On the steps of the church after the service, there was talk among his closest friends of starting a new Internet newsletter, similar to the Neighborhood News that Richards e-mailed to a select group each week, but details were kept private.

Although Richards’ newsletter focused on crime, he also reported on traffic accidents, neighborhood cleanups, community meetings and featured letters from his neighbors on a wide range of topics.

Police have advised other community activists to keep their volunteer patrol efforts discreet.

“They can be much more effective if they do it from the sidelines,” Los Angeles Police Det. Ruben Lopez said at LAPD’s Pacific Division. Richards’ “approach wasn’t as discreet as we would have liked it to be.”

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Two weeks before his killing, Richards reported that a derogatory remark had been etched into the paint on his truck, Lopez said. One night in early August, someone hit the drivers’ side door of his truck with a brick as he drove by, Lopez said.

Richards’ body remained with the Los Angeles County coroner late Monday, while relatives made funeral arrangements. Additional services will be held in Los Angeles and in Dayton, where Richards will be buried, relatives said Monday.

After Monday’s Mass, a few men wearing the T-shirts and red berets of the civilian crime fighting group the Guardian Angels stood nearby exchanging memories about Richards, who helped found the Los Angeles chapter of the group in the early 1980s.

Richards was nicknamed “Pop N Fresh” after a Pillsbury Doughboy product because he wore painter whites and maintained a sunny personality.

While dispersing drug dealers in MacArthur Park, Richards carried a video camera that he chained to his body “so, in case of throw-downs, he wouldn’t lose it,” retired Guardian Angel Paul Barrera said.

“He was absolutely fearless,” Brodie Broderson said.

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