In August of 2018 Jerry Shultz and his wife were enjoying the company of their college-aged son then living at home.
“Our son had parked his Prius out in front of the house just like normal. But when he woke up in the morning and went to start it, the car sounded like a race car,” Jerry said.
During the dark of night, his son’s car had had its catalytic converter clipped. After checking on repairs, his son ended up selling the car instead, because the cost of replacing the converter exceeded its value. Meantime Jerry, a former LASD Sheriff, went online to do some research. It turned out that his 90808 area had reported three other catalytic converters stolen that same night.
When he looked back at the past 90 days, Jerry saw that 44 catalytic converters were stolen from LB’s Fifth Council District just during the previous three months.
Moreover Vic Gonzalez, a friend and neighbor, had had his classic car stolen from a locked car port.
The two of them, Jerry and Vic, got to talking. They decided to start a Neighborhood Watch together, spending free time in their retired years to make the neighborhood safer.
“But we talked about how we really wanted it to work. Not just a Neighborhood Watch where we hand out a few flyers and host a few meetings and that’s it. We wanted to be proactive, be the eyes and ears of the community and actually help stop and prevent crime.”
Thus the South of Conant (SoCo) Neighborhood Watch group was born. Their mission statement, as Jerry describes it, is: To Educate and Deter. “Educate the people and deter the criminals.”
They went through the appropriate steps, coordinating their group with the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) and have since set out on their mission, working (almost every) day and (every) night to educate and deter in their neighborhood.
So, what does that look like?
Jerry and about five other individuals - vetted, approved, and committed to safety - go out in pairs and shifts a few nights a week. Averaging 30 miles of driving per patrol, they become the eyes and ears of the community while the majority of their neighbors are asleep. SoCo is the only Neighborhood Watch in the city to include this patrol element.
“We go out and drive down every street, our car bearing the Neighborhood Watch logo, checking things out and letting any potential criminals know that we’re there.”
According to LBPD Commander Patrick O’Dowd (former East Long Beach Division Head - now promoted to Chief of Staff to the LBPD Chief of Police as of September 2020) the South of Conant Neighborhood Watch group has forged a prosperous relationship between the Police Department and the community they are hired to serve.
“I’ve seen a lot of positive things from that neighborhood group,” said Commander O’Dowd. “Jerry sends out weekly email summaries of their group’s activity that he includes me on. I can see all the good that they’re doing.”
The weekly emails (available to the public on his email list and generally posted on nextdoor.com as well) include detailed descriptions of what Jerry Shultz and his companions see on their nightly drives.
And what they see each night runs the gambit of anything in your imagination. Lots of animals, but also more worrying instances. People in backpacks walking up and down the street are of particular interest. In that situation the SoCo Neighborhood Watch doesn’t do anything but just makes sure the person sees them. The individuals usually disperse after they are “seen.”
They also try to keep an eye out for situations they believe would attract a criminal.
If they see packages out in the open, garage doors open, houses under construction, or signs that the owners are away, they try to keep any eye on those areas, making sure to educate the resident either right then and there, or the next morning on what they could be doing better.
For anything that looks serious enough for a confrontation, they dial 9-1-1. It’s a fine line to walk, but Shultz and his peers feel it’s one that needs walking.
“People wouldn’t believe what we see every night but we have to be very careful. We look for suspicious behavior, but “suspicious” is a subjective word. We’re very careful…we’re not accusatory. What we’re looking for is, are people doing anything that crosses a line? Are they going into driveways, are they shining a flashlight into cars, driveways, or porches? If people are doing something suspicious the least we can do is make sure they’re not comfortable crossing that line.”
So far, Commander O’Dowd agrees.
“It’s the way policing was meant to be. Police are not an occupying force in the community - we can only be as effective as the community allows us to be. Policing requires a direct relationship and community trust. Help from within the community goes hand-in-hand with our mission.”
Commander O’Dowd is also very proud of the other Neighborhood groups that have started in East Long Beach (we focus on East Long Beach because that is where our magazine was created and is distributed).
The Peninsula Neighborhood Watch group is headed by resident Peter Hogenson. He coordinates with a group of about 30 Block Captains with an additional 20 – 30 active members.
“Although the Peninsula is normally a relatively low crime area, we do have enough home and auto burglaries and auto thefts to be concerning. When LBPD revamped their Neighborhood Watch Program to Community Watch (CW) several years ago we hosted a meeting with LBPD East during which they explained how to set up a Community watch Program,” said Hogenson.
Some of The Peninsula group’s recent success stories include deterring a “Peeping Tom” from the neighborhood, helping to find two young missing girls one evening, and working with the city to restrict overnight activity in a neighborhood parking lot known for illicit activity.
Katie Rowe is a Naples resident who, much like Jerry Shultz, grew tired of seeing the theft and damage to her neighborhood too often and too first hand. She took over the Naples Neighborhood Watch group and has been looking to actively revamp its participation, involvement, and members.
Her number one priority is an education campaign about “Light it up, Lock it up, and Call it in” - the three things that both LBPD and all the Neighborhood Watch groups harp on the most.
Light It Up, Lock It Up, And Call It In
The general consensus from those up who see the criminal activity up close in East Long Beach is that a majority of the crime - especially petty theft - is preventable. More often than not, doors are unlocked and packages are in plain sight on the porch. Lock it up should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t always as ingrained as it should be. Every night, individuals and families should make a routine out of locking all car doors and house doors, and making sure their “locking devices” work. A nightly porch check before bedtime for any packages or items which may have been inadvertently left out or unexpectedly delivered is also a great habit for all homeowners.
Naturally petty theft criminals love unlocked doors and unfortunately it seems apparent that East Long Beach is frequented by individuals who at least semi-regularly walk up and down streets checking to see what doors are open. However, if they can’t find an unlocked door, there is another “easy” place to look for something free for the petty thief. The dark.
A strong message from Jerry Shultz, Katie Rowe, and Commander O’Dowd is to “Light it Up.” Thieves do not like lights, they like dark. Making sure that any burned-out bulbs on your front porch are replaced is step one. For those who do not have motion sensor lighting and/or all night lighting on their front porch…installing something along those lines is recommended. Katie Rowe’s group in Naples even went so far as to pitch in and install lights in the neighborhood’s darkest alleys.
“Light it up” and “lock it up” are passive, but powerful. Those two steps alone, if adapted by an entire community, can strongly frustrate and deter criminals from bothering any neighborhood.
Probably the most difficult way the community can help keep crime low is to “call it in.” This is often tougher for your average resident, but for starters, residents must commit to call in anytime a theft or other crime does occur. “If you don’t file a police report, it didn’t happen,” as Katie Rowe likes to say.
No matter how many thefts are actually occurring in East Long Beach, the police department cannot and will not allocate resources toward any area that isn’t “officially” experiencing crime.
Calling it in after it happens needs to become a no-brainer just like locking it up and lighting it up.
Calling it in when it’s suspicious, is another conversation… but one that’s at least worth having. The police department recommends always calling in any suspicious activity, as oftentimes criminals strike more than once. Finding patterns and tendencies in suspicious activity is part of eventually catching individuals who are wreaking havoc on the community.
Bruce Lee is the Seargeant for the Burglary Detail Department for LBPD. He emphasized the importance of calling in and filing reports for EVERYTHING that happens so that his office is aware of it. He also noted the success and helpfulness of porch cameras in helping his team to follow up, identify, and catch repeat offenders.
“For us to be able to mitigate a concern or issues, we need to know it’s happening,” he said. He also added that the more videos they can collect on suspects, the better chance the police have to nab criminals, so keep sending LBPD the videos your porch cameras collect.
Sergeant Lee and Commander O’Dowd also strongly urge residents concerned with theft, break-ins, and other non-violent crimes in their community to pay attention to the laws that surround those issues.
They cite most pressingly the current “COVID 19 Emergency Bail Schedule” issued by California’s judicial council (and later adopted by the County of LA to help reduce California’s jail occupancy and therefore flatten the curve) setting bail at zero for most people accused, but not yet tried, of misdemeanors and lower level felonies.
Sergeant Lee, along with LBPD Public Information Officers Arantxa Chavarria and Allison Gallagher, revealed to our magazine that currently if they catch a petty theft suspect, all they can do is cite them and essentially let them go with no punishment. In our East Long Beach zip codes of 90808, 90815, and 90803, they pulled records of three criminals who have committed a combined 14 crimes ranging from burglary to larceny to battery in East Long Beach during 2020- able to reoffend as a result of this mandate.
For many, home is their sanctuary and an extension of who they are. Most if not all of what you own and have collected in your life is at your home. If you feel fed up and tired of the crime, the LBPD urges you to follow their advice and “Lock it up, Light it up, and Call it in!”
Beyond that, if you feel you have the time and inclination, you can talk to the LBPD about starting (or joining) a safe and community-friendly Community Watch group.
For Jerry Shultz, it has become a full time job in his retirement. Walking the neighborhood during the day…familiarizing himself with the regular vehicles and happenings, and keeping an eye out for the unordinary. He speaks to as many neighbors as he can educating them about the things they can do to help him deter criminals in East Long Beach.
At night, his eyes are peeled for suspicious activity. It’s not necessarily exciting work and it’s likely more troublesome than rewarding to be out and about between midnight and 4 am on a Wednesday. However, his successes have been meaningful and helpful to others.
If nothing else, it had to feel good this summer to shine his car lights on a suspect individual under a neighborhood car, more than likely attempting to steal a catalytic converter. After all, it was his son’s stolen catalytic converter that sparked his South of Conant group in the first place.
Jerry was able to shine his lights just in time to prevent the “cut” and cause the guy to run away.
That’s all… a Neighborhood Watch isn’t going to ever confront or catch a criminal, and most criminals will likely be gone before an officer can show up. But prevention feels good…giving the evidence to LBPD feels good… and in the end, our neighborhoods are safer if more of us work to educate and deter. 908