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Melrose on guard after 7 robberies

A campaign begins to warn residents, visitors about rash of holdups in 10 days. There may be up to three bandits.

August 21, 2008|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Hit by seven armed robberies in 10 days, residents who live in and around trendy Melrose Avenue have launched a campaign to warn neighbors and visitors to take precautions in response to the crime spree.

As many as three robbers, working individually or sometimes together, confronted victims, flashed a gun and demanded money, said Sgt. Ruby Malachi of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Most of the crimes have taken place late at night or in the early morning in the Melrose Avenue corridor between Fairfax and La Brea avenues.

No one has been hurt in the holdups, in large part because the victims complied with the robbers' demands, police said.

But Malachi said the LAPD was concerned that the robbers, emboldened by their success, could escalate their violence.

"As with any crime, the first priority is safety and to report it immediately," Malachi said.

She urged people who witness such crimes to note any descriptive features, such as clothing or type of vehicles used.

The first robbery was reported Aug. 8; the latest on Sunday.

In one incident, an employee of Louise's Trattoria restaurant was walking to his car after work at 10 p.m. Aug. 13 when he was confronted at gunpoint by a man who appeared from behind a tree in the 700 block of North Gardner Street. The robber demanded the victim's wallet and asked if he had anything else of value. The victim called police from work.

Paul Lerner, a co-coordinator of Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, said his group immediately got the word out to neighbors via its website, www.melroseaction.com, as well as through fliers distributed to local businesses, warning workers and customers about the crimes.

The Neighborhood Watch group was formed after the fatal stabbing of 70-year-old Katan Khaimov in March. Lerner said the group enlists block captains, communicates more directly with police officers and issues e-mail alerts.

Eric Greenspan, a manager at the Foundry on Melrose, said that long before the series of robberies hit the neighborhood, the business took steps to secure employees' safety.

"Every restaurant in every single neighborhood deals with this," he said. "It's about taking precautions to protect your staff and customers. Part of it is awareness."

The Foundry has valet parking so "customers don't have to worry," he said.

Employees' tips are paid by check so they do not have to carry cash. They walk in groups after closing, and are escorted to their cars if they park far away, he said.

All three of the robbers have been described as men in their early to late 20s, ranging from 5 feet 6 to 6 feet tall and weighing 150 to 200 pounds.

Even with the latest spate of crimes, armed robberies in the LAPD's Hollywood Division, which includes the Melrose Avenue corridor, are down nearly 18% so far this year compared with the same period in 2007.

During the same period, overall serious crime is down 12%, the largest such decline among the LAPD's 19 divisions.

Anyone with information about the robberies is asked to call Hollywood Division detectives at (213) 972-2932.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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