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Private security contractors report that a recent string of high-profile retail robberies and home burglaries in upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods has caused a dramatic uptick in requests for their services and prompted many of their wealthy clients to change their routines out of a mix of caution and fear.
Recent high-profile crimes involving the entertainment community include the Oct. 27 robbery of the Encino home of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Dorit Kemsley, resulting in the theft of $1 million in luxury handbags, jewelry, watches and other goods. Actor and former BET host Terrence Jenkins escaped a robbery attempt by a masked crew near his Sherman Oaks home on Nov. 10. Then Hollywood was shaken by the fatal shooting of 81-year-old philanthropist Jacqueline Avant (wife of legendary music exec Clarence Avant and mother-in-law to Netflix’s Ted Sarandos) during an attempted burglary at her Trousdale Estates home on Dec. 1; the perpetrator, recently paroled from state prison, was charged with her murder on Dec. 6.
High-profile heists have also occurred in the Fairfax district, where suspects in police-like uniforms followed victims from a restaurant, and in Hancock Park, where two men robbed a mother with her baby. Armed robbers crashed a holiday party in Pacific Palisades on Dec. 3 to strip revelers of jewelry, iPhones and an Apple watch. On Dec. 7, thieves heisted about $100,000 worth of jewelry and goods from guests held at gunpoint outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. And on the evening of Dec. 20, a man was arrested for attempting to burglarize a Bel Air mansion.
According to the LAPD, nonviolent property crimes, including burglary and car theft are up slightly (3.7 percent) from last year, and down 5.8 percent from 2019. However, violent crime — a category that includes homicide, robbery and aggravated assault — is up 6.2 percent so far this year and up 4.4 percent compared to 2019. Robbery itself is up 5.2 percent from this time last year, though down 12.7 percent compared to 2019. Homicide is up 13 percent since last year and a dramatic 52.2 percent compared to 2019. In Beverly Hills, total violent crimes are up 25 percent over the past 12 months, according to the city’s police department.
According to agencies who provide private security — as well as others who work with Hollywood’s A-List (including an estate manager, a business manager and a top Beverly Hills real estate agent) — clients are seeing the headlines and taking increased precautions.
“Almost immediately after the Avant shooting, it’s been crazy busy. We have increased operations in that [Trousdale Estates] area tremendously,” says Aaron Jones, president and CEO of Malibu-based International Protective Security, which caters to upscale neighborhoods throughout greater L.A. “I have a lot of regular VIPs; when people call, I get on the phone with them. We understand the urgency of what’s going on. It’s nonstop. People are looking for individual plans and co-op plans, where we provide security to a group of houses in a neighborhood. Business has quadrupled.”
With a majority of clients in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, ACS Security has seen an uptick of “about 50 percent” in calls and special patrol services in the past few weeks, says field marketing manager, Elizabeth Chyr. Many clients of SSA Security Group (which services the Palisades, Holmby Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Westwood) are “asking for extra patrol,” says executive senior vice president Terry Segraves, adding that the rate of new client intake is up significantly — “we already have 12 new clients in December.”
Coldwell Banker real estate agent Joyce Rey tells THR that she has joined with neighbors in her Beverly Hills Post Office neighborhood to hire private patrols. “They drive by my house every few minutes, so I feel quite safe,” she says. “I’ve already received a call from a client stating an interest in gated communities, and I definitely see a trend moving back toward the security of condominium life, which frankly languished during COVID because people have looked for more space and outdoor space.”
Since late August, Rising S Company has completed risk assessments for multiple high-end clients in L.A. and installed 13 safe rooms, nine safe doors, two underground bunker shelters, and two window fortifications in Brentwood Park, Beverly Park and Paradise Cove, says general manager Gary Lynch. This compares to their installation of seven safe rooms in California in the 2.5 years prior.
Estate manager Bryan Peele, president and founder of the L.A.-based Estate Managers Coalition, told THR that his clients have “fully equipped safe rooms that they can live in for a few days, if necessary, that are completely hard-wired with phone cables, Internet, everything.”
One of Peele’s clients has purchased three bullet-proof cars in the last couple of months, while another located a company in London to replicate his luxury watches. “This guy will take a $200,000 Rolex and copy it, using stainless steel and other metals, so it looks like the original but costs maybe $2,000-$3,000 per watch. So, in the event that it’s stolen, the client is out a lot less money,” says Peele.
His Hollywood clients are securing 24-7 security details, installing more cameras, adding barbed wire on top of fencing on their properties, and calling for armed security prepped in defensive driving to pick them up when their private jets touch down. “They want someone who knows how to get them out of any situation,” he says.
Some are taking firearm and self-defense classes, while enrolling staff in security training. “We even have one client in Brentwood that has security detail follow the kids to playdates and follow the housekeeper when she’s walking the pets,” says Peele.
Entertainment business manager John McIlwee of McIlwee & Associates — whose clients include Jane Lynch and director Matt Reeves — told THR that in the past weeks he has been reviewing insurance policies, sending reminders to use alarm systems, and adding in armed patrols.
“For their own personal protection, people are having a different discussion about what they’re wearing out these days in terms of jewelry and watches,” he says. “I can’t control crime, but I can try to mitigate someone’s exposure to physical harm. And anyone who is having a holiday party is hiring private security — I mean, that sounds like Brazil!”
In the retail realm, eleven smash-and-grab robberies in Los Angeles, from Nov. 18 through Nov. 28, involved over $338,000 worth of goods and more than $40,000 in property damage. Targeted stores include Nordstrom at the Grove shopping center (where at least 18 thieves used sledgehammers and an electric bicycle to smash through windows), Nordstrom at the Westfield Topanga & The Village shopping center in Canoga Park (where a security guard was assaulted with bear spray), Ksubi on South La Brea Avenue, Bottega Veneta on Melrose Place, and several stores in Beverly Center. Fourteen suspects, arrested on Dec. 2, were all released within hours after paying bail or meeting no-bail policies implemented last year for certain crimes to reduce jail populations during the pandemic.
“Things switched gears when suddenly organized retail crime went from under-the-radar stealing, maybe coming out with a duffel bag or a cartful of stolen goods, to these brazen flash-mob robberies targeting higher-end retailers that really hadn’t been caught up in this before,” California Retailers Association president Rachel Michelin told THR. “What’s most scary is that we are seeing the level of violence increase, and that’s something that we really need to start addressing to be sure this doesn’t become the new normal.” Michelin adds that many retailers are wary of beefing up visible security to the point where it overly dampens the shopping experience, and are turning to options customers may not even notice. “Retailers have already been investing in surveillance and tagging products that you may not even know are tagged, so if it’s stolen they can follow the product and make sure [resellers] are held accountable,” she says.
In a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, law enforcement officials in the Bay Area and outside Minneapolis said that some flash mobs of robbers were organized via Snapchat and other apps and that the crimes were committed by people who previously did not even know one another.
Most retailers contacted by THR declined to comment on the incidents or their efforts to beef up security, expressing fears that any details might serve to challenge and embolden criminals.
Nordstrom spokesperson Grace Stearns forwarded a statement on heightened security measures, such as “positioning security personnel inside and outside of our stores and working closely with mall security and law enforcement to anticipate and minimize risk” along with “enhanced training and protocols.”
Real estate mogul Rick Caruso — who owns the Grove shopping destination and recently hired a top political consultant ahead of a possible run for L.A. mayor — told THR that recent events are “disturbing, frustrating and intolerable” but says that “sales and attendance are exceeding pre-COVID levels” after the incident at Nordstrom. “At the same time, we spend an enormous amount of time and money on safety and security here, so we have a very robust, armed security force and an enormous camera system that watches every corner of the Grove. But the underpinning of the economy for greater Los Angeles are small businesses — individual restaurant owners and shopkeepers, who maybe can’t afford that.”
The rare sneaker and streetwear shop Zero’s on Melrose Avenue, which counts Pete Davidson, Noah Cyrus, and several L.A. Rams players as clients, was robbed at gunpoint in September. Owner Zero Selon told KTLA that he was forced to spend his personal savings to hire armed security guards and additional staff.
While burglars’ attempts to smash through the Louis Vuitton and Saks Fifth Avenue storefronts in Beverly Hills with sledgehammers on Nov. 21 were thwarted by bulletproof glass, that city has significantly stepped up security.
“We are one of the first cities in the country to hire more police — five officers were sworn in this week — and, for two years, the city of Beverly Hills has been working with two private security companies [Nastec and Covered6], so there are 80 added armed ex-military guards surveilling both the city and the [residential] neighborhoods,” Todd Johnson, president and CEO of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, told THR. “There are a lot more police on foot, bicycles, motorcycles and in cars. And there’s a good chance that you won’t even notice the undercover guys because they are dressed in sweats and sneakers. Many of the businesses on Rodeo (probably 70 to 80 percent) and throughout the city have additionally hired their own private security. We have more cameras per square foot than any other city in the world.
Lieutenant Giovanni Trejo, public information officer for the Beverly Hills Police Department, elaborated: “If you put together the added police resources and the armed private security officers that we’ve sent into the area, you can say that security has increased by at least 50 percent. These crimes aren’t new, but the pace at which they are occurring seems to be accelerated.”
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