Crime Is on the Rise in L.A. How Is the Jewish Community Responding? Jewish Journal.
On December 1, paroled felon Aariel Maynor allegedly killed philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, wife of music executive Clarence Avant and mother-in law of Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO, in her Beverly Hills home. He then allegedly burglarized a second home and accidentally shot himself in the foot.
Maynor has an extensive criminal record and was released this past September after spending years behind bars for robbery with enhancements for being a prior convicted felon. He has been charged with Avant’s murder.
While the murder shocked the nation, it is the latest in a string of brazen crimes taking place not only in Beverly Hills, but also in Los Angeles at large. On November 22, 20 thieves did a “smash-and-grab” robbery at The Grove, and earlier this month, robbers with guns broke into a holiday house party in Pacific Palisades, stealing phones and jewelry from guests.
On December 5, the Instagram account Street People of Los Angeles posted a video of suspects entering a physical therapy office in Beverly Hills and taking a Rolex from a doctor. Police arrested 14 suspects who were allegedly responsible for retail robberies last month, but all of them were released because of zero-bail policies.
According to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore, homicides have increased about 50% since 2019 and aggravated assaults have risen about 16%. Additionally, Moore said around 200 robberies were reported during the first week of December. And according to USA Today, more than 150 follow-home robberies have occurred in L.A. in the past year. This involves suspects following residents to their homes and then robbing them, sometimes at gunpoint.
Moore blamed the criminal justice reforms that have taken place over the past year and a half on the increase in crime. “Two years ago, a person arrested would be in custody and set to be arraigned in 72 hours,” he told ABC7. “Today, that process is, with the zero-bail, that person is in and out back in the community and their next court appearance is an arraignment that’s four or five months out.”
In a Beverly Hills town hall on December 12, newly appointed Chief of Police of the Beverly Hills Police Department Mark G. Stainbrook said that in the community, property crimes are down 7% from 2020, but violent crimes are up.
“In 2019, there were 82 violent crimes in the city. In 2020, there were 111 and in 2021, there were 132, so there has been an upward trend in violent crimes.”
According to Stainbrook, people are coming from places as far away as Northern California and Riverside and into Beverly Hills to commit violent crimes.
“We tend to see the same people come into the City of Beverly Hills from other regions and commit these crimes,” he said. “This is a regional problem.”
The Jewish community has certainly felt the effects of the crime wave. “There has absolutely been an uptick in crime,” said Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, founder of the nonprofit Magen Am, which provides security in local Jewish neighborhoods. “December 6 was a record for us in terms of how many calls our patrols received.”
“IN THE LAST SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS, THE TREND HAS TOTALLY REVERSED AND CRIMES ARE COMING BACK UP ” — RABBI YOSSI EILFORT, MAGEN AM
Eilfort said he’s heard of three people within two miles of his home who were held at gunpoint during the first week of December. These victims had something stolen from them, like a watch, a vehicle or items from their home. “To see this happening as much as it is is a sad sign of the times. We had a very clear improvement in crime in our area when we started this patrol [earlier in 2021], and in the last six to eight weeks, the trend has totally reversed and crimes are coming back up.”
Magen Am operates a licensed, armed patrol, staffed primarily by U.S. and IDF veterans, in the Fairfax, Melrose and Hancock Park districts — where much of the crimes have been happening — to protect residents. They offer security for synagogues and schools in other Jewish communities, like Pico-Robertson, and host self-defense, situational awareness and firearms training classes as well.
“I really feel like politics and government entities that are supposed to be representing the public are playing politics with our safety and putting in policies that are not in the best interest of the community,” said Eilfort. “Someone needs to be held accountable for what’s happening.”
More and more members of the Jewish community are fed up and scared for their safety. Liora (she wouldn’t give her last name), who has lived in Pico-Robertson for most of her life, has had her family’s cars broken into twice, even though they’re in her condo building’s secured garage. And this past summer, in the middle of the day, she went out for two hours and came back to discover that her front door was heavily damaged; luckily, her lock was able to hold and deter the thieves.
“They did it with the knowledge that anyone could enter the hallway at any moment and catch them in the act,” she said. “The audacity level of these criminals is horrifying, and it seems like the police have their hands tied and can’t do enough to stop this.”
Since then, she’s installed a Ring camera by her front door, but if she’s away from home for too long or she gets a notification that someone is near her door, she gets anxious. “We make sure to double check our car doors at night, but it’s still a bit nerve wracking knowing that there are people out there who have no problem coming into the building and causing damage and taking our things, even if they may be caught,” she said.
Another Pico-Robertson resident, Dan, experienced crime firsthand when thieves stole items from the back of his truck on his block earlier this year. However, he said, “It’s not the first time we’ve been the victims of theft. What I can say is that being robbed is a horrible feeling. It exposes how vulnerable we all are and for me is such a disappointment in the actions of other people. Our house was badly robbed in 2016 and it still haunts us.”
When the protests and riots were taking place in L.A. during the summer of 2020, protestors stole and destroyed over half a million dollars worth of merchandise from the Dr. Martens store on Melrose Ave, which 81-year-old Persian Jewish immigrant Ned Harounian owned. The thieves subsequently burned what was inside. Other Jewish businesses in the same neighborhood, like Ariel Glatt Kosher Market, Syd’s Pharmacy, Fish Grill and Go Couture were also attacked.
More recently, on November 15, a kosher restaurant on Pico Boulevard, Holy Grill, was burglarized. The suspect stole $30,000 worth of items, including laptops, passports and IDs.
Ella Nahmias, whose husband owns the restaurant, told the Journal, “I’m still trying to pull myself together,” and called the scene “a little intense.”
Sam Yebri, a community leader and attorney who is running for Los Angeles City Council in the 5th district – which includes Pico-Robertson, Fairfax, Century City and Westwood – said that as a lifelong Angeleno, it seems like L.A. has never felt more lawless.
“It comes up in every conversation I have with friends and residents in the district as part of my campaign for city council. It’s obviously a serious concern for the Jewish community, especially our schools, synagogues and businesses. People are scared and frustrated and increasingly angry that City Hall and the county have failed to keep us safe. We’re fed up with that.”
YEBRI POINTED TO THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF POLICIES THAT HAVE BEEN ADVANCED IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AS WELL AS AN INCREASE OF GUNS ON THE STREETS AND OVERWORKED POLICE OFFICERS AS CONTRIBUTING TO THE PROBLEM.
Yebri pointed to the unintended consequences of policies that have been advanced in the criminal justice system as well as an increase of guns on the streets and overworked police officers as contributing to the problem.
“According to the City Controller, sworn LAPD officers are performing 460 jobs that could be performed by unarmed non-sworn city employees,” he said. “Restructuring these responsibilities is the fastest way to deploy more police officers to fight this surge of violent crime in our city.”
From Eilfort’s perspective, there is a general negative attitude towards law enforcement, and now the police are less likely to get involved “because the population looks at them as the bad guys,” he said. “These police officers could get criminally or civilly charged [when responding to a call], so how do you expect them to do their job?”
Also, because of more relaxed policies, Eilfort said, “I could imagine officers are getting frustrated if they’re on the ground arresting the suspect and seeing them released before they finish the paperwork. I’ve heard this a number of times. Everyone is deflecting that it’s someone else’s fault. Someone has to step up.”
Many L.A. residents are blaming Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón for the rise in crime, citing his policies like preventing prosecutors from putting sentence enhancements in place, enacting cash bail for non-violent crimes and seeking the death penalty. In a news conference on December 8, the district attorney – who is facing a second recall effort – said he is not responsible for the increase in robberies and homicides.
“We’re trying really hard to use the science that is currently available, the data that is currently available, to do our work,” he said, according to ABC7. “And I’m not going to be intimidated by political rhetoric.”
L.A. SHERIFF ALEX VILLANUEVA, AN OUTSPOKEN CRITIC OF GASCÓN, SUPPORTS THE RECALL OF THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND CRITICIZED PROPOSITION 47, WHICH REDUCED A NUMBER OF CRIMES FROM FELONIES TO MISDEMEANORS, AS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY GASCÓN IS FAILING.
L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva, an outspoken critic of Gascón, supports the recall of the district attorney and criticized Proposition 47, which reduced a number of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, as one of the reasons why Gascón is failing, according to KTLA.
“Then he comes into office and decides not to even prosecute the misdemeanors,” Villaneuva said. “So, you’re doubling down on a really bad idea and now we’re seeing the consequences of it.”
L.A. is not alone in its fight against crime. According to FBI data, the number of murders surged by nearly 30% nationwide in 2020 compared to 2019. It was the largest single-year increase ever recorded in the U.S. While property crimes dropped 8% from 2019-2020, the violent crime rate overall, including murder, robbery, assault and rape, rose by around 5%.
However, Jeff Asher, a data consultant who looks at crime rates, told NPR, “In the ‘90s, New York and Los Angeles accounted for 13.5% of all murders nationally. Last year, it was under 4%.”
Though crime is up, Jewish community organizations and leaders are empowering citizens and providing them with security and the information they need to stay safe.
THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER LOS ANGELES’ COMMUNITY SECURITY INITIATIVE (CSI) HAS TRAINED 2,156 STAFF IN 64 SCHOOLS TO PROTECT AGAINST POTENTIAL THREATS AND VISITED OVER 400 SITES AT JEWISH INSTITUTIONS TO PERFORM VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENTS AS WELL AS OFFER SAFETY GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Security Initiative (CSI) has trained 2,156 staff in 64 schools to protect against potential threats and visited over 400 sites at Jewish institutions to perform vulnerability assessments as well as offer safety guidance and resources.
Activist and Senior Project Coordinator at the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services Adeena Bleich is speaking out and encouraging people to create block watches, take self-defense courses and get to know their neighbors.
“Another great thing to do is help revitalize major corridors by working with your Council office and neighborhood associations to apply for street improvement grants, which will add in pedestrian lighting and fix sidewalks and curbs and make the overall area safer,” she said. “People can also create a walk safely program among neighbors they know so that anyone who feels unsafe to walk alone can message for a walking partner.”
Eilfort, who is running a situational awareness class through Magen Am on December 22, is going to cover dangerous circumstances to avoid, how to read someone’s body language and combat profiling, which is profiling based not on race or class, but whether someone fits into a certain place at a certain time. He said that by learning situational awareness, keeping doors locked, not leaving a new bike or stroller in the front yard and carrying pepper spray and a flash light are good practices to stay protected.
“I tell people that Magen Am can’t be responsible for everyone’s safety,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility to themselves and their own family, and they need to improve their awareness and security best practices.”
Please note: this article was originally published in the Jewish Journal.