With sharp increases in burglary rates across the Pacific area, law enforcement officials are urging more citizen involvement in curbing property crime.
That includes locking doors at all times, as well as more Neighborhood Watch groups and a video surveillance network to catch thieves in the act.
"The question is: How do we harden the target? How do we become less likely to become victims of property crimes?" said Lt. Jeff Bert of the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific Detective Division, opening up a summit of LAPD senior lead officers (SLOs) Thursday night at the Westchester Senior Center.
As of June 30, half of the eight areas in Pacific Division saw declines in violent crime, as well as property crime, and crime in the region is down overall, according to an LAPD report.
But police are pointing with concern to steep rises in the number of burglaries. The Venice Beach area has seen a jump of 54 percent from this time last year.
Early release of parolees in recent years, as well as higher levels of drug use, homelessness and South L.A. gang activity, may be contributing factors, Bert said. The Pacific Division sees the third-highest number of crimes in Los Angeles, behind two South L.A. areas.
Mar Vista has received the brunt of what police call “displacement," Bert said — the movement of criminal activity elsewhere after a crackdown.
Police tactics to avert car theft include the use of bait cars, or leaving a laptop in plain sight in an unlocked car. LAPD has also employed a method called High Illumination Deployment Enforcement, abbreviated HIDE — which sends officers to make rounds in small areas, like Palms and Venice, where police see trends. Bert said the high police presence spooks and dissuades potential car thieves.
The method has been hugely successful, taking down the number of vehicle thefts by more than 20 percent, he added.
Prevention methods for home burglaries have proved more elusive for the department.
"It’s a difficult nut to crack," Bert said. "It's more educational."
Simple awareness helps, as people tend to leave windows and screen doors open in the summer, an invitation to would-be burglars, Bert said.
Neighborhood Watch groups and cameras on private property also play an important role.
Arnie Corlin, a developer and property owner who founded of the Corlin Resource Network, played several videos of security footage for the group. One video shown was used to help identify a suspect in a high school shooting a year and a half ago.
Corlin’s footage, often in combination with that of his neighbors', has helped LAPD make arrests on a number of occasions, he said. He has been part of an evolving process to build a similar network in the Pacific area, starting with Venice and Westchester.
Venice's SLO, , encourages people to install video cameras. This spring, , who was arrested less than 24 hours later.
In a talk about starting up Neighborhood Watch groups, Cyndi Hench, president of the Westchester/Playa Neighborhood Council, said she was reluctant to start one until she was burglarized about eight years ago.
She has since become a vocal block captain.
“It really starts with being willing to step up and take the first step,” Hench said.
The main challenge is simply talking to neighbors and gathering information, she said. In Mar Vista, SLO Marcela Garcia helped design a flier and go door-to-door, talking to neighbors.
She has seen five new groups spring up in the six months since she became SLO, Garcia said.
After two years without a block captain on her street, Cheryl Sievers of Westport said she is thinking about becoming one.
“(We are) always having crime activity, and the cops always circle our street,” Sievers said.
She and three of her neighbors already call each other when they see something suspicious.
Independent measures can go a long way toward reducing property crime, officers told the roughly 20 people who came for the presentation.
“There’s not enough of us,” Garcia said. “We need people to be our eyes and ears.”