Thirty street lights on Blythe Street in Panorama City have been equipped with bullet-resistant shields to prevent gangs and other denizens of the dark from literally shooting out the lights.
Installed within the last three weeks by the city's new anti-vandalism street light crew, the Blythe Street lights are the first in the San Fernando Valley to receive the special shields. In addition, several lights on Blythe Street have new iron plating welded around their bases to prevent vandals from bashing in the poles and ripping out wires.
Lights in other high crime areas of Los Angeles----known in city lingo as "points of hazard"--already have been fitted with the shields, which have proven extremely durable under fire from high-powered handguns, city officials said.
"A shield we installed on one light downtown near Clarence Street and 4th Street was shot at 17 times," said Philip H. Reed Jr., senior engineering manager in the Bureau of Street Lighting. "But the light never went out. They eventually just stopped shooting."
Blythe Street has been a thorn in the side of city street light crews for years, with gang members shooting out the lights for target practice on an "almost daily" basis, according to Reed.
Installing the bullet resistant shields, which cost about $150 each, is cheaper than sending out a truck and repair crew every time vandals destroy a light, officials said. The crew and truck cost between $400 and $500 each time they're sent out. The city spent $166,000 last year repairing shot-out or damaged street lights.
"I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner," said Peter J. Prats, street-lighting engineering associate with the city.
Residents and shop owners on Blythe Street wondered the same thing Tuesday as Councilman Richard Alarcon commemorated the installation of the final shield on a light in front of the Mini Flores Carniceria.
On display behind Alarcon was an old street light, strafed with bullets, including some large holes inflicted by a .357 Magnum. A model of a new street light, protected with a bolted-on 2-foot-long, 40-inch-wide rectangle of polycarbonate acrylic, sat next to the old light.
"The new lights give us more a feeling of security," said Lupe Gallegos, who lives in the 14700 block of Blythe Street with her four children, none of whom is allowed out after dark. "It's just too scary out here. You never know what's going to happen. You're afraid to go outside."
George Flores, senior lead officer with the Van Nuys Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, said he received five or six complaints a week from Blythe Street residents before the shields were installed.
Blythe Street, identified by LAPD Van Nuys Division Capt. Jim McMurray as "the No. 1 item on my agenda," is a known hangout for drug dealers and gang members, who hide inside some of the condemned buildings. The last serious shooting on Blythe Street occurred just three weeks ago, when a drug dealer was shot four times by a dissatisfied customer, police said.
The completion of work on the Blythe Street lights marks the beginning of the second phase of Alarcon's "Operation Lights On" program, the councilman's campaign to light all unlit streets in his district.
Alarcon began the campaign in July, targeting unlit areas in Pacoima and in other areas identified as dangerous by police.