Following a pair of robberies on Montana Ave. this month, store owners and residents of the area are questioning how to secure their homes and businesses in the face of a troubling series of crimes.

Two jewelry stores have been robbed on the same block this year and the area has experienced residential burglaries including a violent home invasion last year. SMPD has identified the suspect in the recent robbery as Robert Art Abalov, a 32 year- old Los Angeles resident who was still at large at press time. The incidents have prompted calls for more security, both private and public.

“The reality is we’re really concerned as merchants because as this happens more and more, fewer and fewer people are going to come shop because they don’t feel safe,” said Ryan Olehass, President of the Montana Ave. Businesses Improvement District.

Olehass said some merchants have asked for private security patrols along the business district but the price to provide even an unarmed guard is more than the organization can currently afford. However, they are considering ways to levy additional assessments to fund private security and Olehass said the discussions are necessary due to a lack of preventative actions by the Santa Monica Police Department.

He said there were reports of individuals casing the neighborhood prior to the January robbery.

“Our disappointment was we didn’t see an increased presence of police,” he said. “Presence sometimes deters criminal activity and we didn’t see that.”

According to Olehass, robberies are rare in shopping centers with a robust law enforcement presence and Montana Ave. should have the same kind of protection.

“Obviously the criminals agree with us because they’re targeting Montana for a reason,” he said. “They don’t target areas that have a heavy police presence, you don’t hear about this happening on Rodeo drive, there’s a visible presence.”

Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez said the Police Department is already changing its patrol priorities based on citywide crime trends.

“We try our best to cover the entire city to be as effective as we possibly can,” he said.

He said the department has heard from businesses and residents about pre-emptive police activity and additional patrols in the area are possible.

“We’re already adapting to burglaries in the residential area,” he said. “Including visible patrols, bike patrols, undercover operations, those are discussions we’re having now as to how we can best combat that. We understand (the concern) and we know that and we do our best to handle whatever issues we are facing. We’re trying to do our best to do what we can with the resources we have available.”

The North of Montana Association neighborhood organization (NOMA) held its monthly meeting just days after the most recent commercial robbery and residents had concerns over the way SMPD communicates during emergencies.

During the most recent robbery, officers established a perimeter to search for the suspect and residents who were out of the house at the time were unable to return home. NOMA president Nancy Coleman said it was hard for those residents to find overnight accommodation on short notice, especially if they were unaware of the situation until they reached a road closure.

She said residents were also frustrated by a lack of in-person information during the event.

“When police officers are asked about what’s going on, the residents are told ‘we’re in the middle of an operation, we can’t talk about it.’ Is that appropriate or not appropriate? That is a question that folks felt fairly strongly about.”

The NOMA neighborhood has had private security patrols since 1981. The guards are paid for by a coalition of homeowners and while residential burglaries have been fairly common in the neighborhood for years, a pair of more violent home invasion incidents prompted the private association to increase patrols.

On an individual level, everyone agreed there are steps that can be taken. For businesses, installing security measures such as visible cameras and alarms can deter criminals. Residents can also install alarms and lock doors/windows even when they are home. In both cases, Rodriguez said all suspicious activity should be reported to police.

“If you see something, call us, we’ll come out,” he said.

Editor@www.smdp.com