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Police Rally Neighborhood Crime Fighters

By Teresa Rochester

April 18 -- The police department wants Pico Neighborhood residents to help take a bite out of crime by forming a network of Neighborhood Watch groups in an area that has witnessed several shootings since January.

Police officials, who hope to establish Neighborhood Watch groups on every block, kicked off the campaign by appealing to about 50 residents at a community meeting Wednesday night at Virginia Avenue Park.

Despite a recently beefed up police presence in the neighborhood, police say they need residents to help out in the effort to crack down on crime by serving as the eyes and ears on their respective streets.

"In light of certain things happening in the neighborhood we want to you to get involved," said Mike Ceveyitch, a Neighborhood Watch coordinator in the department's Community Relations Department. "The key thing we need from you is information."

Residents worried that by reporting incidents they may be the targets of retaliation. Others lobbied for more police in the neighborhood on an on-going basis. The department recently began deploying more officers to the neighborhood following a shooting that left two young brothers injured. The deployment is not permanent, and it is evaluated on a weekly basis.

The department also partners with the Hawthorne Police Department, which intermittently flies its helicopter over the neighborhood under "Operation Prime Time," a project initiated last weekend.

"The problem I see here in the community is that when there is a problem the police come out en masse," said Joe Weichman. "After things calm down, you leave and it starts up again…We need you here."

Ceveyitch pointed out that by forming watch groups residents could turn intimidation by criminals around because lawbreakers would know that neighbors would have no problems calling the police and alerting them of suspicious behavior. The more neighbors who call in problems when they crop up, he added, the quicker the response by police who prioritize the calls they receive.

Residents were also assured that their identity would remain anonymous when they reported crimes and that they could decline to give their names when asked by 911 operators.

Another benefit of Neighborhood Watch groups is that they would allow residents to get to know everyone on their block, making it easier to spot suspicious individuals while building a stronger community, police said.

Peter Tigler, chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association and a long time lobbyist for greater police presence in the area, said that knowing neighbors was crucial in the battle against crime.

"The most important thing they said tonight is it's important for neighbors to know neighbors to make a community safe," Tigler said. "The more comfortable you are with people around you the easier it is to identify suspicious people and activities."

Currently there are six active Neighborhood Watch groups in the Pico Neighborhood, according to Sgt. Dave Thomas, who heads the Community Relations Unit.

For more information on forming a Neighborhood Watch Group call the Community Relations Unit at (310) 458-8421.

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