Two recent murders in Hancock Park and Windsor Square have alarmed residents so much that 300 of them met with Los Angeles police last week to discuss crime in two of the city's oldest affluent neighborhoods.
Police said that the murders and two other violent but nonfatal assaults--a stabbing and a shooting--all occurred within one month in the adjoining neighborhoods. But they insisted that Hancock Park and Windsor Square are still relatively safe communities.
"You folks live in a neighborhood that's low down in the number of crimes historically. But there's a constant level of citywide crime that's seeping into your area," Officer Chuck Newman, the Police Department's lead liaison officer for the community, told the crowd at the Wilshire United Methodist Church last Thursday night.
The two neighborhoods, composed mostly of mansions with gardens and deep lawns, are surrounded by sections of the city that are markedly less affluent and have higher crime rates.
"What happened in Hancock Park is an influx of people into the areas surrounding it, and they're preying on Hancock Park because it's a moneyed area," said Allan Slonim of Westec Security Inc., the private service contracted to patrol both neighborhoods.
At the orderly two-hour meeting, where the only shouts from the audience were "Louder, please," residents acknowledged that sometimes they don't even report crimes because they think police are too busy patrolling other areas. Some said that in an emergency they would probably call Westec before calling police.
"In the past two months alone, I know of five people who were robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint who aren't in your statistics," said resident Carl Jacobs.
Newman said he recently learned of an incident in which a woman was allegedly run down on McCadden Place, her body dragged beneath the wheels of her attacker's car for almost a block, and she never reported the incident to the police.
Police in both the Hollywood and Wilshire divisions, which share responsibility for the two neighborhoods, said robberies were up throughout their territories in January and February.
Of greatest concern to the Hancock Park and Windsor Square residents, however, were the four especially violent crimes.
Two women in their 20s were killed in their homes during what police suspect were actually attacks by acquaintances. Lt. Peggy York, commanding officer of the detective bureau in the Wilshire division, said one woman had apparently been strangled in a bathtub Jan. 15 in her family's home on Arden Avenue. The other woman, York said, was shot to death Feb. 2 in an apartment above a garage behind a June Street home. The Arden Avenue home has an extensive security system, but York said she didn't know whether it was activated at the time.
The stabbing victim, police said, was a 17-year-old Orthodox Jew visiting from the Netherlands. Would-be robbers stabbed him repeatedly with an ice pick on a Saturday after he told them it was against his religion to carry money on the Sabbath. In the shooting incident, two women were accosted while carrying groceries into their home, and one of them was shot in the kneecap after the man stole her purse.
York said police had solved several other robberies and were close to making arrests in the two murders.
"What's most frightening is this casual crime. You're unloading your groceries at three in the afternoon and you get shot at," said Marguerite Byrne of the Hancock Park Homeowners Assn. "I know the crime is connected with the traffic."
Hancock Park is bordered by Melrose Avenue to the north, Wilshire Boulevard to the south and Rossmore and Highland avenues to the east and west. Windsor Square abuts Hancock Park to the east and extends to Van Ness Avenue.
These neighborhoods are often considered the home of Los Angeles' "old money." Getty House, the official residence of the mayor, is in Windsor Square. The Van Nuys, Doheny, Huntington and other notable families built mansions of architectural distinction there in the 1920s, and as few as four of them fill entire city blocks on some streets.
At the meeting, residents wanted to know how they could protect themselves from what one woman called the "undesirable element" in the surrounding neighborhoods. One man suggested building gates around both neighborhoods, but the crowd generally disagreed with him. Others said that their streets needed better lighting.
Capt. John Higgins of the Hollywood Division, which patrols the north half of Hancock Park, warned residents about "follow-home robberies."
"People are targeted well away from their homes, possibly because of the way they're dressed or the cars they drive," he said. "When you get into your neighborhood, be alert about cars that might be following you. When you stop, look in your rear-view mirror. If you see anybody, make sure your doors are locked."
In the Wilshire Division, whose territory includes the southern half of Hancock Park and all of Windsor Square, an extra police car has often been assigned to the area, especially on Friday nights when the area's Orthodox Jews walk to temple.