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Atwater Finds Sense of Community Unity in Wave of Burglaries

September 08, 1988|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

After their telephones were stolen for the fourth time in four months, office workers at the Chapel of St. Francis and St. Mary of the Angels started bringing their own and taking them home.

Down the street, Neville Jerrome installed steel gates and bars on the windows of his chiropractic office after being burglarized four times.

Around the corner, all the hair dryers in Linda Apostol's beauty shop were stolen--twice.

Until August, the three had thought that they were alone.

Up and down Glendale Boulevard in Atwater, shop owners and small business people had been battling burglary after burglary for months. Thirty-five thefts in the area were reported to Los Angeles police from October, 1987, through August. Although virtually all the stores had been entered the same way, few of the business people knew each other, and word was slow to get around.

But a worshiper at the chapel, who frequents many of the shops in the area, finally made the connection.

The shop owners say they have begun to think of themselves as a community formed out of adversity. Along with local police, they are planning their second meeting in a month to battle the crime wave, which has cost the businesses more than $55,000 in missing items.

"Some of the businesses were on the verge of extinction because of this," said the Rev. Ronald Erlandson of the Chapel of St. Francis and St. Mary of the Angels, who organized the first community meeting in August to address the burglary problem. "Because of the mounting anxiety and fear, we felt we had a contribution to make. Out of this has come a nice community spirit."

Along with the church's phone system, burglars also took typewriters, a copying machine and a brass processional cross, Erlandson said. Other businesses were virtually paralyzed by the loss of office equipment, phone systems and computers.

Edward Stankiewicz, 21, of Los Angeles was arrested in early August in connection with the burglaries. On Aug. 19, he pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary in connection with all 35 of the thefts and has been sentenced to jail, police said. Detective Jesse Brown of the Northeast station said police believe that Stankiewicz and three others entered the businesses through air-conditioning ducts in building roofs.

3 Others Investigated

No burglaries have been reported in the area since the arrest, Brown said. Police are still investigating the other three suspects.

The first community meeting, held Aug. 15, was attended by about 25 shop owners and two police officers. Stankiewicz had been arrested a week before, police said.

Shop owners and church members said they now greet each other in the streets whereas they felt alone before. And they talk of organizing a block party with an international flavor to take advantage of their varied backgrounds.

"When you're working, you never talk to anybody except who you work with, but now all the businessmen . . . , it seems there is a camaraderie," Apostol said.

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