In December, Cabrera and then commissioner Maria Anderson requested that Masington appear before the commission to discuss crime in the city. Both commissioners said, at the time, that residents had approached them in unprecedented numbers to express concern over a series of home and auto break-ins.
“People are scared,” Anderson said.
Indeed, last month a group of residents who live on Santa Maria, a street that bisects the Riviera Golf Course running from Bird Road to Blue Road, held a meeting with city officials, including City Manager Pat Salerno and Masington, to discuss several burglaries that have occurred there in the last year. They also noted there were break-ins at homes or apartments on neighboring streets of Campo Sano, Mendavia, Venera, San Remo and San Amaro. These crimes, so far, have netted primarily jewelry and other valuables.
“We didn’t want to publicize this or politicize this as it was a campaign issue,” said Charlie George, whose Santa Maria home was broken into last year.
“People are angry and frustrated, no question,” George said — and this was the message delivered to the city officials and police department. “We told them we know they are trying, but it’s continuing. Property crimes can develop into something more serious and somebody could get hurt.”
In January, at the Biltmore Hotel, thieves heisted a safe filled with $15,000 at 4 a.m.. Surveillance video showed three armed men bursting inside the historic hotel’s security office and startling an officer who was seated at a desk while on duty. One of the men, whose face was obscured by a red covering, held a gun to the security officer, ordered him to the floor, and stole his iPhone, along with the safe. The three men came and went through the hotel’s employees-only, rear loading area. The three escaped in a brown Nissan Maxima. No one was hurt.
In March, there were purse snatchings of elderly women walking on Giralda Avenue and Le Jeune Road, north of Miracle Mile. In the latter incident, a tourist suffered cuts and bruises when she resisted. An arrest was made in the Giralda snatching.
Another type of crime that has residents concerned involves the theft of tires and rims from cars. When owners return to their cars in their driveways, they find the vehicles up on blocks. From October through December last year, there were 17 of these thefts. From January through April of this year, there were 15 such incidents.
Fed up, the Santa Maria residents called for the meeting at the Riviera Country Club, which was not a formal crime watch meeting.
“We nagged the living hell out of them that there are, in fact, actual crimes,” George said. “Citywide it may be down, but it’s become fairly acute in our immediate neighborhood. This got their attention. Police improved patrolling and surveillance and communications in the neighborhood. It’s been quite intense over the last several weeks. We see police cars every day and unmarked vehicles we know are police officers.”
The residents also aren’t relying solely on the police. They are also getting by with a little help from technology.
“I can tell you, the women in this neighborhood have become very vigilant with their cell phone cameras and an email distribution list,” George said. “They call police immediately and they are taking photos and videos and send them out. We’ve got quite a communications system going.”
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