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Residents Alter Their Lifestyles as Perceptions, Reality Merge : Crime: People change driving routes if followed for too long. While walking, they scan passers-by with suspicion.

A CITY ON GUARD: First of two parts

September 30, 1993|TINA GRIEGO and ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LONG BEACH — Crime and the fear of crime are exacting a toll on Long Beach.

For many residents, the price is their security. Even the simple daily routines--a stroll in the park, a trip to the corner market--could be dangerous. They're staying home after dark, driving three blocks to church, avoiding crowded parks on weekends.

At St. Vestal C.M.E. church on Martin Luther King Boulevard, in a neighborhood where young men and women hang out in front of their homes and drugs are delivered more often than pizzas, Pastor E. L. Smith changed his Bible study class from 7 p.m. to noon because people were afraid to come out at night.

After being robbed at gunpoint last year, dry cleaner Sue Jhu put a video camera in her 7th Street store and now keeps a can of tear gas within easy reach.

The Sexual Assault Crisis Agency in Belmont Shore and Cedar House, a downtown-area mental health clinic for abused children, want to move to larger facilities with help from a city grant. Both agencies want the money, staff said, but only if they don't have to build in the central city.

"We're counseling people who have been victims, and we don't want them victimized on the way here," said Daphne Ching of Cedar House.

Throughout the city, residents have installed alarms in their Chevies, bought watchdogs, barred windows, become marksmen, hired security guards.

Corsair Certified Security, which has most of its business in North Long Beach, has had a 20% jump in patrols in the past year, said co-owner George Metcalf.

At J & R's Range and Gunroom in Long Beach, gun sales and the use of the range doubled after the 1992 riots. Since then, business has slowed, but it's still up 30% over 1991, said co-owner James DeVries.

For many residents, crime has changed their lives in more subtle ways.

In Belmont Shore, psychologist Carol Andries no longer drives with her car doors unlocked. To the northeast, not far from the 605 Freeway, Pauline Sitar has stopped taking her children on the weekends to El Dorado Park, where, on a recent weekend, four people were injured during a gun battle.

Just north of downtown in the Drake Park neighborhood, Carol McCafferty wears clothes with pockets so she doesn't have to carry a purse. Even then, she says, "I make sure I only have enough money to buy the half-gallon of milk I forgot to buy that afternoon."

Gina Patterson, who lives near Carmelitos Housing Project in North Long Beach, has withdrawn her son from Jordan High School and enrolled him in Lakewood High because she's tired of worrying whether he's going to get beaten up because he's wearing the wrong color shoelaces.

Central Long Beach resident Atrilla Scott drives three blocks to church. And any time she is driving, she keeps a keen eye on her rearview mirror. If a car stays behind her more than a few blocks, she'll change direction to make sure she isn't being followed.

COMING SUNDAY

In neighborhoods all over Long Beach, dozens of small battles are being waged against crime. Some residents arm themselves with guns, others with brooms or books. The Times takes a look at how people are fighting back.

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