Fighting Back

Residents of Silvius Ave. in the Coastal San Pedro area pose for a picture on July 20 during their neighborhood block party, which was organized to bring awareness to the rash of home burglaries and to install security cameras in the neighborhood. (photos by Kelsey Duckett)

It’s a model that one small neighborhood, about 60 homes, is hoping will become the norm throughout the streets and neighborhoods in San Pedro – it’s simple, cost-effective and an effort to deter thieves from targeting homes.

It all started after a couple home break-ins turned into a rash of home and vehicle burglaries – six homes, 11 vehicles in 18 months – in one Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood on Silvius Avenue.

Residents were fed up and decided it was time to fight back.

That’s where Michael Herzmark came in, he spearheaded a neighborhood watch, planned two meetings, contacted Councilman Joe Buscaino and LAPD Senior Lead Officer Matt Vuoso, and started the push to get cameras installed on every home.

“My house was broken into in the middle of January, we were about the fourth or fifth burglary,” he says. “Enough was enough. It wasn’t just the stuff they took, it was the fact that they were in our home, going through our drawers. They violated our privacy and sense of security.”

So Herzmark knocked on his neighbors’ doors, all 60 of them, and suggested a meeting at White Point Elementary School. The turnout was more than Herzmark could have imagined, and better yet, the neighborhood had a plan.

Captain Nancy Lauer, Commander of LAPD Harbor Division, and Councilman Joe Buscaino attended the block party to lend their support.

A handful of residents, including Herzmark, installed security and surveillance systems in their homes. But a month later, Easter Sunday of last year, another home was broken in to, this time though, they had an image off of one of the neighbor’s cameras.

“We thought we finally caught the people involved,” he says. “But when we looked at the image it was too small, and too far away to see anything.”

Herzmark spoke with his neighbors and they knew if they could get everyone in the neighborhood to put up a camera, they would “have an unbroken view of the street,” he says.

“Again the residents got talking, we had another meeting and we decided to have a block party where the handy neighbors on the street could install cameras for anyone who bought them.”

The block party took place on Saturday, July 20 – about 100 neighbors showed up, fired up the grill, brought desserts and drinks, and while the kids played and neighbors visited, three groups of neighbors went around to various houses and installed cameras and surveillance systems.

Angeline Barnes, a block resident, had a camera and security system installed during the block party. She was the first break-in on the street, almost two years ago.

“They broke in through a window of mine and took all my jewelry, cash, an iPad and a camera among other things,” she explains. “It was a difficult time, I didn’t feel safe in my home and it just was a violation of my privacy.”

Barnes said she was thrilled with the idea of a block party, saying it not only brought the neighborhood out to help fight crime, but also was an event that allowed neighbors to meet and get to know one another.

“I have lived here for almost 40 years, and there are people that I just met today,” she says. “I spent a couple hundred dollars on these cameras and my neighbors are installing them and syncing them with my computer and phone. It’s fantastic.”

While some were installing cameras, others were posting signs on fences and street posts.

Residents installed security cameras on a number of homes along Silvius Ave.

“The installation of these cameras will not only ensure that individuals who commit crimes in this neighborhood can be brought to justice, but also sends out the message that this neighborhood has created a unified front against crime,” Vuoso says. “Facebook continues to be a great tool for both the police and citizens to share information vital to the safety of the community. The two together have taken the concept of neighborhood watch to a new level.”

Los Angeles police Capt. Nancy Lauer, the Harbor Division commander, also attended the block party and endorsed the community’s effort to use cameras and signs as a tool to help deter criminals.

“I applaud their initiative and willingness to get involved,” says Lauer. “Anytime we can work in partnership with a neighborhood is a big benefit and a positive for both the neighborhood and the police department.”

She also told the neighbors at the party that the Harbor Division has had great success in solving crimes through surveillance cameras on homes and businesses.

“Criminals aren’t just bound to one neighborhood,” she says. “Criminals are always on the move, and we have had success in capturing a suspect that committed a crime in one area by using video footage from another.”

Lauer did say that crime in the neighborhood, which includes Silvius Avenue and is bounded by Gaffey Street, Paseo del Mar and Hamilton and Weymouth Avenues is down.

“Major crime is down 57 percent in this area from last year,” she says.

She did note that any crime is too much, and each step neighborhoods take to secure their homes and their community will be beneficial.

Last year there were 21 cars broken into compared to 10 vehicles to date this year, there were 10 cars stolen compared to five this year and 14 burglaries compared to five this year.

Councilman Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who worked in San Pedro as a senior lead officer, says the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Watch Facebook group is the largest in the area with more than 500 members. “This is exactly the type of proactive initiative I was hoping for when my office launched a series of Neighborhood Watch Groups on Facebook nearly a year ago,” says Buscaino. He adds that using the Facebook group to inform each other “will bring new meaning to ‘neighborhood watch.’”

“They have just raised the bar on crime prevention,” he says.

Herzmark adds that with “the installation of these security cameras we are going to make it as difficult as possible for criminals to operate in our neighborhood.”

“We hope this is a model that other San Pedro neighborhoods will adopt,” he continues. “It is time to take back our streets in our city. We are here not only with a model, but to help other neighborhoods implement it as well.” spt

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