Crime watch unites Westside
When Terri Tippit opened the door of her Rancho Park home last week, a man stood before her and introduced himself as part of a “literacy program.” Then he asked if she was a teacher like her neighbor. Tippit, who was home alone, was suspicious -- how did a stranger know her neighbor was a teacher?
“I told him, I don’t do door-to-door [solicitations],” she said. “Then I did an e-mail blast immediately to my people and said there’s someone going through the neighborhood right now. Do not talk to them. Do not give information. Just say no.”
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that crime had reached historic lows. But a growing number of people on the Westside have come to believe that they are in the midst of a mini-crime wave, especially with the recent series of home invasion robberies targeting elderly women.
On Monday, police arrested a suspect, Jeffrey Wayne Langford, 53, in the robberies. The news prompted relief on the part of some homeowners, but others remain wary.
Len Solomon, 66, and his wife, Pat, 61, who have lived in their Ashby Avenue home since 1973, said they recently joined a homeowners group because of the robberies. He welcomed the news of an arrest, but Len Solomon said it is possible that there was more than one individual involved. His wife was a little more apprehensive.
“If I was living by myself, I would seriously consider moving,” she said.
Throughout the Westside, residents are discussing the robberies as well as such things as an iPod stolen from someone’s car, the local supermarket parking lot’s transients, the latest drug bust and alleys recently covered in gang graffiti.
Tippit, who has lived in Rancho Park for nearly 35 years, is chairwoman of the Westside Neighborhood Council and president of the West of Westwood Homeowners Assn.
She and her neighbors, like many throughout the city, have started to band together and revive their Neighborhood Watch groups.
Tippit said she believes that over the last year, the Westside has seen an increase in burglaries, thefts from cars break-ins and, most recently, home invasions.
“It seemed like once that other crime increased, with break-ins of cars and break-ins of houses, once that crime increased, it seemed like other ones came with it,” she said.
Citywide, violent crime is down 6% from the beginning of the year through mid-August, and robbery is down 5%, according to the LAPD. Property crimes are down 5%.
In West Los Angeles, violent crime is down 4%, with major declines in homicides and rapes, but robberies held constant. Property crimes are down 11%, with burglaries down to 595 from 724 at this time last year.
In a way, as Councilman Jack Weiss notes, there’s a certain irony to living in a low-crime area: Crime is a big deal. It sticks out. “When neighborhoods have seen a long stretch of relatively low crime, of course, new crimes catch their attention,” said Weiss, whose district includes West L.A.
Capt. William Eaton, who heads the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Los Angeles Division, doesn’t believe residents are experiencing a mini-crime wave, but acknowledges the trend in home invasion robberies.
He said his station, which polices the city’s largest geographic area with about 150 officers assigned to patrol 65 square miles, reviews its crime data daily. The home invasions have raised statistics, but they have also drawn increased police resources and community attention.
At the end of May, a man in dark clothing and a ski mask began committing early morning robberies, primarily targeting elderly women living alone in single-story homes. He has stolen jewelry and money from at least a dozen homes, leaving residents disoriented and traumatized.
At least one woman, a 79-year-old, longtime resident, put her home up on the market a few days after an incident and has since moved out, neighbors said. Others have installed alarm systems, fences and other security devices.
“The impact of a crime like that, someone who targets the elderly, is that it can create hysteria at times,” Eaton said. “Is there a concern and fear in the community? Yes. Is there some legitimacy to it? Absolutely. Is it a crime wave that should cause people to uproot and move out of the West Los Angeles area? No.”
Even before the home invasion robberies began, Tippit and other residents had started selling hundreds of Neighborhood Watch stickers for $2 and are now giving them out free to the elderly to put in their windows. As of this month, Neighborhood Watch groups appear to be thriving for the first time in decades, she said.
“As crime crops up, what we’re doing is identifying every area where the crime is and [where] we don’t have a Neighborhood Watch, and then setting those up in that area,” said Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, which represents about 38,000 homeowners and renters, and co-chairman of the Community Police Advisory Board for West Los Angeles.
In the last two months, six Neighborhood Watch groups have been formed in the Cadillac-Corning-Robertson area, he said.
Marilyn Cohon, who manages the Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Assn.'s e-mail list, said she has seen it grow from about 900 people to more than 1,000 in the last month.
She said as many as 1,400 people rely on her crime alerts, which are printed out and passed around the community. She sent about 20 e-mail updates last month.
“They may feel really quite impacted by traffic, they may feel quite anxious about development,” Cohon said. “But crime gets them where they live.”
Yet, for the most part, violent crime such as robberies are atypical on the Westside. The area’s big problems are graffiti, littering, loitering, a couple of gangs and vehicle break-ins, said David Holtzman, public safety chairman for the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.
In the meantime, the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council will add street banners to areas in a few weeks and plans to spend $2.5 million for landscaping and streetlights on stretches of Pico Boulevard to make areas more attractive to foot traffic in the next year, Holtzman said.
“The more people you have out on the streets, the more eyes you have watching,” he said. “Public safety is not just crime statistics, it’s also a feeling.”
Times staff writer Francisco Vara-Orta contributed to this report.
‘Silverware Bandit’: A man is charged. Page B3