Speaking at a meeting of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council on Monday night, two Los Angeles police captains said the LAPD needs the public's cooperation to combat property crimes and traffic accidents in the area.
Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys log a low number of violent crimes, but the high rate of area property crimes poses a tough challenge to police, said Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Paul Snell.
Snell, who took the job as head of the Van Nuys Division of the Valley Bureau six months ago, and Capt. Ivan Minsal of the LAPD Valley Traffic Division provided a law enforcement overview to Neighborhood Council members.
Snell compared the 30 square miles encompassing Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks to the South Bureau, one of his last positions. That area, which includes neighborhoods south of the Santa Monica Freeway to the harbor, logged in 100 homicides yearly, nearly a third of all homicides citywide. Snell said he personally oversaw 70, many of them gang-related.
By comparison, the Van Nuys Division has recorded four homicides, three of them related to domestic violence and one possibly gang-related.
"It's a tremendous difference, and somewhat relaxing," Snell said.
But what the area lacks in homicides it more than makes up for with a high rate of property crimes, which Snell called "our Achilles heel here."
He passed out maps peppered with tiny symbols detailing the crimes over the past few months and admitted they looked "pretty bad." But he added that many were crimes such as burglaries, car break-ins and stolen vehicles that could be prevented by residents taking extra steps to secure their property.
The "Lock It, Hide It, Keep It" education campaign launched in the LAPD Valley Bureau in August helped reduce motor vehicle break-ins and thefts from cars, he said.
"Even some of the domestic violence crimes can be curtailed by education," he said.
In general, incidents of reported crime have decreased for the past eight years, he said, but, added, "There's only so much we can do before they start to level off."
Currently, he has staffing for 270 officers under his command, with 30 vacant posts to be filled. Those officers will be challenged to deal with an influx of parolees to be released from state prisons to relieve overcrowding, he said. While noting that most of those to be released have committed nonviolent crimes, many of their crimes are narcotics-related, which could result in more thefts, assaults and property crimes, Snell said.
Police are also challenged to provide staffing for the Nixle alert system, Snell said, (nixle.com) which provides real-time information about crime. He urged residents to take advantage of crimemapping.com, another online tool that provides data about crimes in specific neighborhoods.
Minsal reported that traffic violations were also down within Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys, overall by 2 percent, compared to this time last year, and with only one traffic death so far this year. However, pedestrian and driver accidents have increased, with 81 recorded in 2010, compared to 95 so far this year.
Like Snell, he urged residents to be more aware and take active steps to help reduce accidents.
"Focus on your driving," Minsal said. "It's what I'm asking you to do this holiday season."