A wave of armed robberies along Melrose Avenue highlights bigger problem
The first to get robbed Tuesday on the busy Melrose strip was Zero’s, a trendy sneaker store. A man pulled a handgun on an employee in the middle of the day and ordered him to fill garbage bags with shoes, clothes and cash.
Next, a few hours later, it was some gardeners a few blocks away robbed at gunpoint of all their tools.
Then, half a mile down the street, a security camera captured a man hurling a rock through a restaurant window and making off with $3,700 from the cash register in the middle of the night.
The thefts were the latest in a string of brazen armed holdups and other crimes in the Melrose and Fairfax shopping areas in recent months. Although Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore accurately reported to the Police Commission this week that overall in the city “robberies are essentially flat” compared with last year, beneath those numbers is a disturbing trend of rising robberies involving guns.
In the first eight months of 2021, 1,218 robberies involving guns were recorded across the city, an 18% increase over the same period last year.
In the LAPD divisions that patrol the popular shopping district along Melrose Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood, the increase has been more dramatic. Armed robberies involving guns have jumped by more than half in Wilshire Division, and Hollywood Division has recorded a 78% rise.
“You’ve heard of Taco Tuesdays. Well, robberies Tuesday has become the norm in the Melrose district,” said Peter Nichols, who helps run Melrose Action, a community group. “We have a violent crime or two or three in the district every week. The common language is lawlessness. ... I have never seen so much chatter about being in fear.”
A store security camera captured a man pulling out a handgun on an employee at Zero’s, a trendy sneaker store on Melrose Avenue.
The amount of bloodshed has climbed too. Through Wednesday, 22 people have been shot in Wilshire Division’s patrol area — up from 14 during the same period in 2020. There were five homicides in the division through the middle of September in 2020 and 13 this year.
Overall in the city, crime is down 1.4% this year, but violent crime is up 6% and homicides have increased 21%.
In July, when two men attempted to rob a man just off Melrose on Vista Street, their intended victim opened fire with a handgun, wounding them both. The suspects were arrested.
Nichols points to the killing of Jayren Bradford outside Shoe Palace last month as a “tipping point” for merchants and residents. Bradford, 26, who worked at the store, was shot when he tried to break up an argument during a shoe raffle. Police later arrested a 16-year-old boy in the killing.
Last week, a man working at Oldboy barbershop had a gun pointed at his head by a robber. Security video shows the employee ducking for cover behind a white van as the gunman stands over him.
And earlier in September, two men stuck guns in the faces of customers at a sidewalk café on Melrose and made off with their cash, shopping bags and a watch. Days later, LAPD officers arrested a man accused of being the getaway driver.
Dom DeLuca, owner of Brooklyn Projects, a skateboard shop on Melrose, said his sales in September are down more than a quarter. He attributed the drop to the increase in crime.
“In 24 years I have seen the ups and downs of Melrose. The pandemic, we figured a way around that, but we cannot work around crime.
“I have friends who order stuff from my shop and they rather pay shipping than come here,” he said. “Tourism is crickets.”
DeLuca was critical of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Dist. Atty. George Gascón and Councilman Paul Koretz for what he said were their insufficient steps to address the crisis. Robbers, DeLuca said, feel a sense of impunity because they don’t believe they’ll get caught.
“The mayor of L.A. needs to come down here to see the great city he talks about, the wonderful shopping district, is crumbling,” he said.
LAPD Deputy Chief Blake Chow said the department has put more officers on foot patrols in the area, and when they are not responding to radio calls for help, officers in cars have been directed to drive the shopping corridor. In the weeks since the increased patrols were put in place, crime has dropped significantly, Chow said.
“We have a message for criminals: Stay the hell away because we are doing everything to catch you,” said Koretz, whose district includes the shopping area. He said he has put discretionary funds the city gives council members toward paying the overtime hours needed to increase police patrols, to staff a mobile command post on Melrose Avenue and to deploy undercover officers along the popular strip.
But Koretz added that it is clear to him the increase in armed robberies and other crimes involving firearms extends beyond Melrose Avenue. He said the trend is especially troubling in light of the growing number of untraceable ghost guns being seized from suspects.
Nichols, who has lived in the area for 22 years, said the crime over the last several months has been the worst he can recall. Melrose Action, he said, has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to purchase and install automated license plate readers along Melrose in order to help police identify and catch crime suspects.
“They are pulling out guns in broad daylight with tons of witnesses around, with cameras,” he said.
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