Concerned about break-ins and street robberies, Orthodox Jews in the Fairfax District have organized to bring in a private security agency to supplement the police force and a volunteer neighborhood patrol.
"I think we don't have a severe problem of crime in the neighborhood, but there is a perception," said Rabbi Chaim Schnur. "In a close-knit community, where there are incidents everybody hears about it and gets nervous."
Observant Jews have special concerns because their religion bars them from riding in cars or carrying money or other valuables on the Sabbath and holidays. This makes them especially vulnerable when they walk home after evening services, because frustrated robbers sometimes turn violent, Schnur said.
But he said that all residents of the area are being encouraged to sign up for the service, offered by Bel-Air Patrol at a cost of $20 a month per household.
150 Have Signed Up
Approximately 150 families in the area bounded by Melrose Avenue, June Street, 3rd Street and Genessee Avenue have committed themselves to the service, said Michael Vartanian, general sales manager for the firm.
He said businesses on Melrose Avenue, Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street also have expressed interest.
The basic service offers a single car cruising the area from 4 p.m. to midnight, seven nights a week. The armed driver is able to respond to a telephone call for help within an average of five minutes, Vartanian said. Response is available around the clock, but not necessarily as quickly, he said.
As more people sign up, the hours of service and number of cars assigned to the Fairfax District may be increased.
The company currently has as many as five cars in the area to help recruit clients, said Brian O'Connor, general manager of the firm. Service began in early April.
O'Connor said the service was worked out after months of talks with Schnur, who heads Agudath Israel of California, an Orthodox community group, and with Ira Handelman, a private consultant.
O'Connor said the patrol will provide a "missing link" in security for the area, which falls on the boundary between the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood and Wilshire divisions.
According to Handelman, who also helped organize the 2-year-old Beverly-Fairfax Community Patrol, the area is underprotected because the police force is generally busy with high-crime areas to the north and south.
Dangerous Bus Stops
Also, he said, the concentration of senior citizens in the Fairfax District adds to the perception of vulnerability. He noted that bus stops along Fairfax Avenue have been reported to be among the most dangerous in the city, according to a recent study by consultants.
"The community patrol is still important because it covers a larger area and it still acts as eyes and ears for the police," he said. "The more there is of that out there the better it is for everybody."
Sgt. Ron Batesole, community relations officer at the Police Department's Wilshire Division, said he was not aware that the Bel-Air Patrol had begun operating in the area. But he said the activities of the volunteer patrol had proved helpful.
"You can't measure the number of crimes that are not committed, but the fact that there are fewer calls for service up in that area probably would be directly related to the fact that the patrol is working up there," he said.
The volunteer patrol, with about 200 members who work one shift a month, cruises an area between Wilshire Boulevard and the West Hollywood city line and between La Cienega Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
Unlike the commercial agency, whose employees are licensed by the state and the Los Angeles Police Commission, the volunteers are instructed to stay in their cars and do nothing more than phone in a report if they see something suspicious.
By contrast, the representatives of the Bel-Air Patrol are considered to be the legal agents of the property owner, O'Connor said.
They are authorized to arrest trespassers and use force if necessary to keep intruders at bay until police arrive.
In addition to armed response by a patrolmen, residents will be offered burglar alarm systems ranging in cost from $400 to several thousand dollars for an elaborate set-up, O'Connor said.