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In This Part of Town, Predators Are Learning to Fear the Hawks

April 15, 1990|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Suzanne England saw the two gang members closing in on her, one brandishing a knife and threatening rape, and she screamed for the police.

"Then I realized, 'What am I doing?' and shouted for the Hawks," recalled England, a slender 5-footer who would have been no match for the youths even had they been unarmed.

The Hawks, as members of the Ivar Hawks Neighborhood Watch group are called, heard the call of their fellow member and bolted into action.

According to plan, some Hawks turned on house lights while others yelled for each other out their doors and windows. Still others sprinted outside and confronted the gang members, chasing them away long before the first police car could arrive.

After the incident three weeks ago, a shaken but unharmed England identified the assailants as being affiliated with a local Latino gang that had been brazenly terrorizing the Hollywood neighborhood for months. Police say they are investigating.

And so it is that another victory has been chalked up to the Hawks, a group that patrols from Cahuenga Boulevard to Vine Street, and from Yucca Street to Franklin Avenue, just below the Hollywood Freeway.

There are about 6,000 police-affiliated Neighborhood Watch groups throughout Los Angeles, many of whose members meet over coffee and cookies and peek through their windows looking for signs of trouble.

And then there are the Hawks, who spend hours out on patrol, guard street corners, question anyone who seems out of place--and make citizens' arrests.

The Hawks and similar groups such as the Hollywood Beat Keepers and the Hollywood Sentinels are urban pioneers in a burgeoning movement in which residents have taken to restoring law and order in their crime- and drug-plagued neighborhoods, with great success and with the blessing of police.

Hawks go further than most, if not all; since they began last April, they say, they have made 16 citizens' arrests and won convictions in every case. Neighborhood Watch groups making arrests "are few and far between," according to Officer James Cypert of LAPD's Crime Prevention Unit. He said he knows of only one other Neighborhood Watch group in the entire city that is as aggressive.

Since last year, Hawks have rid their neighborhood of nearly all the drug dealing, prostitution and other vice that had blighted it.

"These people are our eyes and ears on the streets," Capt. Rick Batson, commander of LAPD's Hollywood Division, said last week. "They create a presence in the neighborhood, and they prevent crime."

As England recounted her misadventure at a meeting of the Hawks last week, Batson sat quietly across the room, listening. When asked what he thought about her faith in the Hawks over police, he was anything but defensive.

"We can't get there nearly as fast as they can," Batson admitted.

Batson said LAPD relies on such groups to maintain a presence in their neighborhoods, to deter crime and to defuse potentially violent situations until officers can get there. Many times, he said, Hawks have provided eyewitness accounts that allow police to make arrests that stand up in court and lead to convictions.

What's more, Batson said, Hawks have shown a rare level of commitment by testifying in court in the cases, most of which were filed against drug dealers arrested by Hawks' members in the first place.

Turning to the dozen or so Hawks at the meeting, who were readying themselves for another night of patrol, Batson said: "Whether you guys believe it or not, you have made a tremendous difference in your neighborhood. . . . We're behind you all the way."

Batson said he witnessed the genesis of the Neighborhood Watch concept while stationed in South-Central Los Angeles in the late 1970s. Since then, the number of such block clubs has grown tremendously, from 2,516 in 1984 to 4,823 in 1987 to about 6,000 today, statistics show.

But Batson said the Hollywood watch groups are different in that they are very visible and active, like modern-day militias that not only band together in a time of need, but also help unify neighbors into cohesive, sociable units.

England, a photographer, agrees, saying she spent years living on her street without ever having met more than a few neighbors. "If I had shouted for help that night," she said, "and the Hawks weren't around, I don't think anyone would have come out."

The three established Hollywood groups, and as many as nine others in their embryonic stages, have been so active and successful that they are regarded in police circles as a national model, Batson said.

"It is these people in Hollywood," Batson said, "that have really taken off with the idea and made it work."

The watch organizations are becoming so prevalent in the Hollywood area that an umbrella group, United Streets of Hollywood, was formed. It first met in September, 1989.

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