A series of residential burglaries that have struck the Westchester and Playa del Rey area in recent months prompted hundreds of community members to seek information and advice from police at a town hall meeting last week.
A standing-room-only crowd of local residents filled the Westchester Senior Center Wednesday, February 15th, where some high-ranking officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Pacific Community Station were on hand to inform the public about the recent crimes.
The town hall meeting was organized by 11th District Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey.
“The people feel very violated,” Neighborhood Council president Gwen Vuchsas said. “There have been so many (residential burglaries) in a short period of time and the people are frightened and very frustrated.”
LAPD Pacific Lt. Philip Fontanetta said there have been 15 burglaries of single-family homes in the Westchester and Playa del Rey area since mid- December.
The crimes have occurred in the area west of Sepulveda Boulevard, east of Vista del Mar, north of Manchester Avenue and south of the bluffs in the Kentwood area, he said.
The most recent burglary occurred Thursday, February 16th, when a washer and dryer were stolen from a garage at a home on Anise Avenue in Westchester.
Police believe the burglaries have been committed by two to three separate “sets of people,” described as white men wearing construction outfits and African American men, Fontanetta said.
Some suspects were possibly driving a white pickup truck.
“There are different people committing these crimes,” he said. “It’s not one group.”
A method that has been consistent in the burglaries is that the suspects have knocked on the front doors to see if anyone is home, Fontanetta said.
When there was no answer, the suspects have entered the backyard of the homes, smashed a rear sliding glass door, and sometimes disabled the home security system, he said.
In some of the incidents, the suspects have also disconnected the telephone line, he said.
The items taken have included jewelry, money, guns, and electronic equipment.
The most popular days for the burglaries have been Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Fontanetta said it is unusual for single-family homes to be burglarized on weekends, but when residents have recently gone away for the week and returned during the weekend, they have found their homes burglarized.
While the series of burglaries has affected the area since December, what the police department calls Part-One crimes — which include auto thefts, burglaries, robberies and homicides — have decreased 25 percent over the last year in the LAPD Pacific community, LAPD Pacific Captain Bill Williams told the town hall audience.
Many questions raised by residents at the town hall meeting related to the police response time to the incidents and the need for more police presence in the community.
While Williams acknowledged that all areas of the city need more police officers, the LAPD Pacific officers “are out there” and are dedicated to serving the community, he said.
One resident at the meeting said his home was recently burglarized and the response by LAPD Pacific police was “phenomenal.” But while police are doing their job, they also need the community’s help in trying to solve the crimes, he said.
Police encourage residents to take action by sharing information with their neighbors, activating their home security alarms and looking for suspicious activity, such as unfamiliar people leaving the side gate of their neighbor’s home.
Residents who see a crime in progress should call 911. To report other suspicious activity, residents are asked to call the LAPD Pacific burglary hotline at (310) 482-6490.
Police advise residents to “find a good hiding spot” for their valuables because the suspects have been searching for such items during the burglaries, Fontanetta said.
“In every one of the burglaries there has been ransacking,” he said.
Since the suspects “like to knock on the door first” to make sure no one is home, police also advise residents to let the suspects know they are home, Fontanetta said.
Residents and children should also be aware that they don’t have to answer the door for strangers, he said.
Vuchsas said she was impressed with the police presentation at the town hall meeting.
“I think the community was really pleased with the facts that were presented,” she said. “People got some really solid advice.”
Vuchsas said the meeting was also successful in how it created an awareness of the need for more Neighborhood Watch programs in the Westchester/Playa del Rey communities.
Rosendahl said Neighborhood Watch is a “great first step” for the community, but a majority of the audience members indicated that they were not involved in a Neighborhood Watch program.
Vuchsas said the creation of more Neighborhood Watch programs would be helpful for the community, and that the Neighborhood Council is committed
to working with police to set up cluster meetings throughout the community for program training.