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Keeping the Peace on Larchmont : Security: Merchants in the upscale 'village' felt they needed protection, so they hired a roving guard to shoo panhandlers.

January 02, 1994|SCOTT SHIBUYA BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"But down these mean streets a man must go . . ." --Raymond Chandler

In the glare of high noon, a powerfully built man dressed in black steps out onto the boulevard to make his rounds. He nods at passersby, exchanges a few words here and there, but keeps moving, ever alert to the rhythms of the street. After two blocks, he turns and surveys the scene. All is quiet, as it should be.

"A lot of troublemakers, when they see me, it's whoof! " said the man. "Like roaches when you turn on the light."

Meet Mike Craig. Age: 29. Vital statistics: 5-feet-9, 245 pounds. Profession: security coordinator. Beat: Larchmont Village.

Granted, the streets in this neighborhood aren't exactly mean. With its outdoor restaurants, neighborhood shops and unhurried pedestrians, Larchmont Village is Los Angeles' version of Main Street U.S.A.

Bothered by aggressive panhandlers, the local merchants contracted a private security force--in this case, Craig.

"(Now) we have far less panhandling, even to the point where it doesn't exist," said Tom Kneafsey, a real estate investor who has offices and property on Larchmont Boulevard.

Connie McCreight, who relocated her interior design business to the village in April, agreed: "I can't remember the last time I saw one."

For Larchmont Village, crime is mostly something that happens somewhere else--albeit nearby at times. Police said the corridor along 3rd Street between Western and Normandie avenues has one of the city's highest rates of street robbery.

Until last summer, the village's major problem was its homeless, a band of 10 to 15 who would not have drawn a glance in other parts of Los Angeles but who were very visible along the boulevard. There, police said, they collected as much as $125 a day from shoppers.

The idea to hire a security guard to shoo them away was proposed by resident Patty DeDominic, president of the private security and investigations firm that employs Craig. DeDominic, whose husband is president of the Larchmont Boulevard Assn., said: "It seemed a tragedy for the neighborhood that people were not feeling confident or secure here."

Enter Craig and exit most of the homeless.

Craig is adamant about keeping the village pristine from the uglier realities of urban life: "There's no gangs, no graffiti around, nothing."

But if he were to leave, Craig said, the panhandlers and troublemakers would be back within days: "This is a beautiful place, but it could go to hell real quick."

Craig's services do not come cheap. The tab for his patrol is about $2,000 a month and is picked up by about 30 businesses that contribute $50 to $150 each.

The contributors get access to Craig's pager. Although all the businesses along Larchmont Boulevard between 1st Street and Melrose Avenue benefit from Craig's presence, only those that help fund his beat can phone him in times of need.

So far, there have been few such calls.

Asked to recount some of the more perilous encounters during his seven months on the job, Craig mentions the appearance one day of three suspicious-looking men who appeared to be planning to rob one of the village's banks. The men left, Craig said, after they found they were being watched by him and bank security personnel.

Other than that and a traffic accident that culminated with the two drivers fighting in the front seat of a moving pickup, Larchmont Boulevard might even be called dull.

Security, Craig said, is not about physical confrontations, but about being prepared to handle a range of situations. Craig said he considers his job akin to that of a neighborhood cop walking the beat: equal parts good will, knowing everybody's business, and just being visible.

That, he said, is what keeps Larchmont Village safe.

"Some days I get five to 10 calls," Craig said, pointing to his pager. "Some days, I don't get any."

Then he joked: "There's nothing going on. I cleaned it up."

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