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Community News: Mid-City

WESTLAKE : A Neighborhood Unites Against Crime

January 02, 1994|JAKE DOHERTY

A lot of people who looked at the 600 block of Bonnie Brae Street a few years ago wrote it off as another drug-infested, crime-ridden block in a rough part of town. But not Ron Wishon.

Wishon, an apartment manager on the block, saw the same problems as everyone else. He just didn't agree that the answer was to give up. Because whatever the problems on that block, it was, and is, his home.

"It took 3 1/2 years to get this block cleaned up, but we did it," Wishon said. "To a lot of people, it may not seem like a big accomplishment, but our kids can now come out and play on the street. The people who live here know what it took."

For five years, Wishon has lived on the block, which was littered with broken glass and debris and was a hot spot for drug dealing, gang activity, prostitution and encampments erected by homeless people.

But an incident he witnessed over three years ago changed his tolerant attitude, Wishon said. "When I saw a dealer sell to an 11-year-old girl, something inside of me snapped."

Wishon organized his neighbors and other apartment managers to launch their own war on drugs with documentation as their most effective ammunition. They wrote down the license plate numbers of cars involved in suspicious activity, surreptitiously took photos of drug deals and compiled descriptions of known dealers.

With that information, the police began making more arrests. And because residents were flooding the Rampart Division with calls instead of ignoring the criminal activity outside their doors, the Los Angeles Police Department increased patrols in the area, Wishon said.

For a few months, Wishon and his employer, Cappucci Management Co., worked with guards from a private security firm to discourage people from loitering on the street. Regular cleanups along the block also have made a big difference in its appearance.

Some troublemakers didn't go easily. Wishon was shot at and threatened in 1992; a bullet passed through the window of his apartment. But the persistence of the block's residents persuaded the dealers and the gangs to move along.

"If people know you're not going to tolerate it, they'll find someplace else to go," Wishon said. Usually, the problems move only a block away, which means that the entire neighborhood has to get involved, he said. "One person can't do it."

Problems still spill over onto the block. Last spring, a rash of car burglaries resulted in stolen radios, tires, batteries and other personal items. "That tells me we've got a lot of hurting people around here," Wishon said at the time.

He said he knows that many of his tenants and prospective tenants have a rough time making ends meet with jobs at minimum wage or less. That's one reason why every year before Christmas, he and his wife, Maria, and children, Anthony and Emilia, host a free lunch for the neighborhood.

"We're just a bunch of concerned citizens getting together to make other people's Christmas better because it makes ours better," he said as he served up turkey, mashed potatoes, salad and fruit salad from tables on the sidewalk.

Wishon said 10 people showed up at the first lunch five years ago. But the event has grown since then, and this year about 100 people came for lunch Dec. 23. Most of the donated food was gone in an hour and a half.

"I hope we can get some more donations of food next year so we could serve more people," Wishon said. "A lot of these people are just down on their luck and need a little boost.

"I try to help the community 365 days a year. It makes me feel good, and it's a way to teach my children to do the right thing," he said. "If you're determined to get out and do things, you can make things happen."

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