Manhattan Beach resident Linda Reinstein returned home one night several weeks ago to find her house turned upside down. Jewelry, family heirlooms and other valuables – worth an estimated $200,000 – were missing. She had been victimized in a burglary.
“I have nothing now,” Reinstein said.
She would soon learn that she’s not alone. The Manhattan Beach Council Chambers was at full capacity Tuesday, an uncommon sight for a regular City Council meeting. In response to a violent break-in last week wherein suspects held two adult residents captive at gunpoint as they ravaged the residence, Manhattan Beach Police Chief Eve Irvine called for an “emergency presentation” at the first hour of the Council meeting.
Shaken-up residents stood before the Council Tuesday, some relaying fear and others expressing a desire to help protect the safety of the community. One mother of two infants said she is “becoming paranoid” after hearing about surrounding crimes, that she’s startled by the sight of her own shadow in her own home. She has started looking at real estate in Orange County. “I can’t live like this,” she said.
Another resident said he was outside his house with his son when he heard the sound of glass breaking. He soon learned his next-door neighbor’s house was getting burglarized.
Chief Irvine said despite common belief, the recent spate of robberies and burglaries is nothing new. In fact, she said, the general crime rate is on the decrease from 10, 11 years ago when robberies numbered 50 and burglaries nearly 300.
In 2012, robberies numbered around 30, and burglaries around 200, Irvine said.
With regard to last week’s gunpoint break-in, she said it was “extremely rare, extremely unusual,” not at all reflective of the average crime in Manhattan Beach. Despite common belief, such violent and obtrusive burglaries are not on the increase, she said.
However, Manhattan Beach is known to be an easy target to perpetrators, she said, due to a sense of complacency and false security among residents. More than 90 percent of car break-ins could be prevented merely by locking the doors or stashing valuables out of sight, she said.
One suspect arrested by MBPD admitted to having traveled all the way to Manhattan Beach from San Bernardino for that reason, Irvine recalled.
“‘Because you lock nothing,’” she said. “The suspect said that. Bring in A.B. 109 and add to that recipe, and we could have a recipe for disaster.”
Assembly Bill 109, or the Criminal Justice Realignment Act, took effect in October of 2011 with the goal of alleviating California’s prison overcapacity of 187 percent by allowing criminal offenders convicted for non-serious, non-violent or non-sex-related felonies to serve their sentences in county jails. Under a new program called Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS), such offenders are now released into county supervision instead of state parole.
Additionally, under Penal Code 1170, more than 500 crimes have been reclassified to not allow state prison sentences – only 70 such crimes remain on the books.
One problem, Irvine noted, is that county jails are at an overcapacity as well. As of August this year, 33,000 state inmates have been released early – 17,000 of them under the supervision of L.A. County.
Between 2012 and 2013, MBPD has arrested 36 PRCS individuals for a myriad of crimes, ranging from auto thefts and drug possession to burglaries and robberies. Five of them were arrested more than once by MBPD, she said.
It’s a classic case of the revolving door, Irvine explained. Because burglaries are considered non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual, such perpetrators are low on the priority list for the limited space available in the county jail. Even convicted individuals walk away after serving a shortened sentence, if at all.
“Manhattan Beach police, I’m so proud of them because they make arrest over arrest over arrest,” she said. “We do a great job catching criminals … the problem is, when we do catch them and they go into the county system, they’re doing about a third of the time. Because they’re non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual, those are the folks that will be released. We have seen it here.”
Irvine urged residents to help voice this concern to local representatives – “because this is not okay, this is part of the problem,” she said.
“Manhattan Beach is a very affluent community, and my goodness you guys are influential,” she said. “You are all influential. If you call your local representatives, your senators, they listen to people in this community.”
Other ways to get involved include joining the Neighborhood Watch Program, which currently covers 70 to 75 percent of residential streets. She also encouraged installing sound alarm systems in homes and scheduling a home security inspection with MBPD, and to abide by her department’s “Lock It or Lose it” campaign.
Among MBPD’s new preventative security measures is rolling out the Nixle Public Safety Program in the next few weeks, which will disseminate to subscribers real-time crime notifications and related press releases. Irvine has also designated a burglary suppression detail, with one to eight officers, detectives and community police academy graduate volunteers patrolling the town in both “marked” and “unmarked” cars.
“It’s imperative to do what we can,” Irvine said. “Let’s make ourselves as a hard of a target as we possibly can.”
A crime prevention community meeting organized by police, city officials, residents and victims will take place Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Police/Fire Community Room.