Quick arrests by the Santa Monica Police Department after two violent break-ins in the North of Montana neighborhood have not quieted neighborhood fears of a perceived spike in burglaries. Now, neighbors who have already been paying for private security for decades want to step up patrols even more.
May was a disturbing month – on the 15th, multiple men assaulted and robbed Andrew West in his home on 17th Street. West is still recovering from his injuries in the hospital. Then, less than ten days later police say the same burglars struck again – this time allegedly stabbing resident Imtiaz Tar and hitting his housekeeper Dinah Barrera with a hammer inside Tar’s home on 19th Street. Tar’s wife and son were also home when the attack happened on May 26.
Tar ended up in intensive care and is still recovering. Barrera also went to the hospital but has since been released.
Two men, Brian Morgan and an unnamed juvenile, are facing attempted murder charges for the brazen break-ins that happened in daylight hours. In the second burglary, Lt. Saul Rodriguez with the Santa Monica Police Department say the suspects only took some cash and a cell phone.
Santa Monica police say there has been an increase in property crime across the region, not just in any particular neighborhood. There were 25 residential burglaries in NOMA in the first four months of 2017, according to statistics provided to the Daily Press by the SMPD. The number of incidents is set to outpace last year’s total number of break-ins, 55, which was down from 63 residential burglaries in 2015.
Affluent neighbors in the 90402 zip code have always been eager to protect their million-dollar homes. Private security guards have patrolled the entire neighborhood 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 1981. The operations manager for the Santa Monica Protective Association (SMPA) says about 1,100 residents pay $32.50 a month to support the program.
“We’ve always averaged about a burglary a week in the area,” Derek Johnson said, who has lead the SMPA since 2011, noting that a burglary can be something as simple as walking into an open garage and stealing a tool or as serious as what happened to the Tars. Johnson said the severity of the recent incidents and social media sites like NextDoor where neighbors can easily share information attribute to the perception crime has skyrocketed.
“These (incidents) are the worst things that have happened in 35 years,” Johnson said. “These are outliers, of course.”
In response, the home security firm ADT has added a third security guard to the neighborhood. There is a discussion over whether members should pay higher dues to support the third guard on a permanent basis. The armed security guards did not respond to either of the violent burglaries in May. A large group of neighbors now supports forming a new patrol that would hire a more intensive security service than SMPA currently provides.
Neighbors, including Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, say they can’t remember another example of someone being attacked in their homes in the past few years. Himmelrich, who is a member of SMPA, says she is proud of how the neighborhood has pulled together in light of the break-ins.
“To me, the bottom line is this: the crimes we have suffered are crimes of opportunity,” Himmelrich said. “We need to decrease the opportunity, increase our awareness, and band together as neighborhoods throughout the entire city.
In addition to the private detail, SMPD had stepped up patrols in the area when Tar’s home was broken into Friday evening. It led to a speedy response: as the first officers arrived, the 17-year-old suspect was still running away. Still, Johnson pointed out that the increased presence did not deter the attack from happening in the first place.
“The police had increased their presence immensely,” Johnson said. “I had never seen so many officers on the streets before…and still these guys were able to come into the neighborhood and pull it off. Its just mindboggling.”
Thursday, June 8, NOMA will host a meeting on crime and safety from 7 to 9 p.m. Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks will be in attendance. The police department does not have a stance on neighborhood paying for private security.
“We will do what we can to do our part to be more visible and be more responsive,” Lt. Rodriguez said. “If they want to do something differently that’s entirely up to the community.”