It was a packed house on Wednesday night as the Manhattan Beach Police Department hosted a community forum on security and safety - managing both criticism and compliments from residents.
The forum was held in response to a rape that took place on August 26 in the 900 block of Valley Drive. No arrests have been made in that high-profile incident. Many residents - particularly those who live adjacent to and near the greenbelt - continue to feel rattled about personal safety.
Manhattan Beach Police Chief Derrick Abell implored residents to partner with the police by calling in suspicious behavior, and by following basic safety steps for themselves and for their property.
"Know who your neighbors are. Are you aware of that car down the street?
Who’s that person showing up at that house? All of those are the questions that we should be
asking," said Abell,
He added that the MBPD was active 24 hours a day on the lookout for suspicious
behavior. "Our officers are not just driving around waiting for a call
– they’re out there shaking the bushes. They are busy throughout the
Abell faced several questions about safety in and around the greenbelt. With regard to lighting in the area, Abell noted that the city currently has a project to install solar lights on areas of the greenbelt, and that the plan is to place some of them near the workout area at 10th and Valley.
"We’re going to add some light over there so you can be a star and people
can see you," he said.
Several questions from the crowd related to security cameras in the greenbelt area. Abell said that the idea was proposed and rejected two years ago, but that it might merit another look due to improvements in video technology. Nevertheless, he cautioned that video has disadvantages: someone has to monitor the footage, the data has to be stored somewhere, and often the "bad characters" disguise themselves with hoodies or bandannas.
Abell pointed to the success of the Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) that scans vehicle license plates at entrance and exit points of the city. Abell noted that in the month of August alone, there were ten "hits" on the ALPR, which resulted in five arrests, three of which were police pursuits.
Abell also cautioned residents about planning to use a gun or Mace for self defense. Possessing those items are well within a person's rights, he said, it's just that it's difficult to know how the average citizen without highly specific training would respond during a frightening "fight or flight" scenario - and whether such a person would be able to use those tools properly. He then demonstrated an air horn that could serve as an easy-to-use deterrent.
Nevertheless, some residents were not satisfied. One tearful woman complained that her house had been broken into and no detective had called for four days. As the crowd applauded, Abell assured her that he would look into the situation.
Charlotte Lesser, director of Neighborhood Watch, then urged residents to join the Neighborhood Watch program. "I encourage each and every one of you to reach out and be part of the
solution. Every time something horrible like this happens, we become afraid. It
takes a little while for us to feel the courage to go back into our community
feeling safer," she said.
Lesser continued: "The more you reach out, the better off you’re going to be.
That’s what Neighborhood Watch is – caring and looking out for one another as best you can."
Abell added: "Keep fighting the fight - and fight with us."