“I’ve always been anti-gun,” said Debbie Mizrahie of Beverly Hills. “But I am right now in the process of getting myself shooting lessons because I now understand that there may be a need for me to know how to defend myself and my family. We’re living in fear.”
During Black Lives Matter protests last year, Mizrahie told The Post, her neighbor’s home was firebombed with Molotov cocktails.
“My kids were outside and they saw a huge explosion,” she said. “[The neighbor’s] backyard went up in smoke. Trees burned down … But it’s only gotten worse. Beverly Hills has been targeted.”
Mizrahie, a 40-something mother of two teenagers, isn’t alone. Ever since the protests last year descended into riots and lootings, a growing number of Beverly Hills residents have been buying weapons.
“It’s gotten to a point where residents feel insecure even going from their door to their car,” said resident Shirley Reitman. “A lot of residents are applying for a concealed carry weapon permit, even though that’s a great challenge in LA County.”
According to LA County Sheriff Alejandro Villanueva, the department has received 8,105 concealed carry weapon applications and approved 2,102 of them since he took office in December 2018, compared to his predecessor having issued 194 permits in four years.
“Even hardcore leftist Democrats who said to me in the past, ‘I’ll never own a gun’ are calling me asking about firearms,” said Joel Glucksman, a private security executive. “I’d say there has been an increase of 80 percent in the number of requests I’m getting this year.”
That trend increased last week, Glucksman said, after a beloved black philanthropist, Jacqueline Avant, was killed in her home.
“The killing of Avant shows that even having a security guard isn’t enough to deter someone,” said Mizrahie. The victim and her husband, legendary music executive Clarence Avant, had a private security guard on duty when she was killed around 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 1.
“What you’re seeing is the spillover into these communities of crime and violence,” explained LA police officer Steve Robinson. “Before, you would never hear of a robbery or a shooting [In Beverly Hills], or if you did, it was once or twice a year. In 2020, the Beverly Hills Police Department pulled 18 guns off Rodeo Drive. You go back any year before that, and it may have been zero to one or two.”
Ironically, hours after Avant was killed, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón “distributed a fundraising letter seeking to overturn a law that would keep her [alleged] killer in prison,” according to the Washington Examiner.
The bill he was pushing for would eliminate additional prison time for using a gun during a crime.
Critics already blame Gascón for releasing many violent offenders with few restrictions. Last year, he eliminated cash bail for many offenses.
“It’s like we’ve been taken over by gang members and criminals because they know that Gascón is going to make sure he doesn’t prosecute them,” said one woman, a writer in the entertainment industry, who did not want to be identified. “He’s saying, ‘Hey, go out and rob someone for $900 worth. Get arrested, go back out on the street.”
A California ballot initiative, passed in 2014, allows the theft of items up to $950 before the crime counts as a felony, as well as the possession of three grams of hard drugs including meth. The combination, say law enforcement, has been toxic.
“It’s a revolving door at the back end because the DA doesn’t want to prosecute and got rid of cash bail,” said Glucksman. “So now police are saying to [private security firms], ‘Hey, I understand they’re trespassing, but we don’t want to take that arrest, because there’s nothing that’s going to be done. It’s a waste of our time and it’s a waste of money for us to expend the energy and take care of things that aren’t going to be attended to by the courts and legal system.’ The DA is sitting there going, ‘Nope, pop this one out the window. It’s not like they stabbed somebody or they murdered somebody or raped somebody.’”
More than 1,800 people have been shot in Los Angeles in 2021, up from 1,530 in 2020. Homicides in LA rose nearly 50 percent, from 161 to 236, between January to October of 2020 and 2021.
There had been 361 homicides in LA in 2021 as of Dec. 9. That’s still a far cry from the peak: 1,984 homicides in 1991.
But longtime residents of Los Angeles said they were less affected by violence in decades past.
“I don’t ever remember crime being so high,” the entertainment writer said. “We used to leave our doors unlocked. I would leave my keys in the car with the door unlocked. Not anymore. We’re seeing not just burglaries but also robberies. We are seeing emboldened gang members and criminals holding guns to people’s heads.”
Last week, two armed robbers invaded a holiday party at a house in Pacific Palisades and took a watch, jewelry and phones from startled guests.
“Everyone I know is anxious about going out to dinner,” said the entertainment writer. “People are afraid to wear their wedding band. They’re afraid to wear a watch. They’re afraid to carry not just an expensive bag but any name-brand bag. I keep wondering, are people going to get used to this level of crime?”
Beverly Hills and surrounding neighborhoods like Brentwood and Bel-Air are famously home to liberal celebrities. People interviewed on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive wanted me to know that they are very concerned about racism and police brutality.
But the killing of Avant was a wake-up call. “My industry is filled with progressives who have the luxury of being idealists and espousing philosophies they they thought would never come back and bite them,” said the entertainment writer, who is in her early 60s. “There’s a shift now that it’s become so much more dangerous.”
She mentioned a robbery on Nov. 30 in Hancock Park, a tony neighborhood south of Hollywood, when two men robbed a woman with a baby at gunpoint.
Glucksman said some criminals are sober and deliberate but many others are addicts and more reckless, breaking into cars randomly.
“Some are carrying around bats with them,” he said. “Three or four years ago my guys would see something like that once every couple of months but now we are now dealing with it on a daily basis, multiple times a day.”
After Glucksman’s guards arrest a suspected criminal, they turn them over to LA police and file a report.
“We are finding vagrants totally plastered out of their minds in private residential areas where our clients are and we have to call the paramedics to take them to the hospital because they were non-responsive [on drugs],” said Glucksman. “This is happening multiple times a week.”
Gascón has reduced the LA County jail population by nearly one-third, from around 17,000 to 12,000. The California prison population declined from 127,000 in January 2019 to 99,000 in July 2021.
“Unfortunately, for the majority of people released from prison,” noted Glucksman, “it’s harder for them to find jobs than others. They’re without skills or an education. Nobody wants to hire them. So … they’re going to return back to their old ways.”
On Wednesday, Gascón held a press conference defending his controversial rollbacks on bail and and additional time for using a gun during a crime, as well as charging juveniles as adults.
“We have set a path for ourselves,” said Gascón, “and turned around the criminal legal system in the country in a way that will be more humane, more equitable and, above all, will create a safer environment for all of us.”
Critics called his remarks “tone-deaf.”
Few people interviewed by The Post, including police, said they favored mass incarceration. “You shouldn’t be in jail for the rest of your life,” said police officer Robinson. “But if the three offenses happened to be violent offenses, the probability is that you probably have committed at least 30 crimes of the same nature and they haven’t been caught.”
Beverly Hills residents have organized themselves, block-by-block and in nine city zones, for self-defense. The emergency preparedness committees, Just in Case Beverly Hills, were started by Vera Markowitz, a former 1960s radical who was a member of the New Left Students for a Democratic Society before moving to Beverly Hills.
Today, she views public safety and fighting discrimination as two sides of the same coin. “Two years ago I got rid of the Beverly Hills police chief because she had cost the city $25 million in lawsuits by former police officers alleging that she was racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic,” said Markowitz.
(The police chief has stated that she retired.)
The entertainment writer and her retired business exec husband, meanwhile, organized neighbors to hire private security. “We got all these homes to buy in way more than I anticipated,” she said. “But it turned out there wasn’t private security available. There is complete panic out there.”
Security firms charge between $2,000 to $4,000 a month to patrol neighborhoods. “A lot of people are mad about it because people moved here in part because of the police and we’re paying a lot of money in taxes to be in Beverly Hills,” said the retired business executive.
Beverly Hills Police Department is under-staffed and just hired five new officers to make up for the 17 it lacked to meet the minimum required for public safety. That’s still a blip compared to LA, which has 500 fewer police officers today than it did this time last year.
Private security executive Bryce Eddy runs Covered Six. One of his clients is the city of Beverly Hills, which hired his firm in June of 2020 after looters smashed store windows on Rodeo Drive.
“The police were overwhelmed,” said Eddy. “In October 2020 we were out there with 22 vehicles and 40 armed guys per shift for 80 armed guys a day. We reduced crime by almost 40 percent. They kept us on until January. After we left, crime spiked back up 90 percent.”
In February, three alleged gang members stole a $500,000 Richard Mille RM 11-03 Flyback Chronograph watch off the arm of a man eating lunch at the Beverly Hills restaurant Il Pastaio. The same month, criminals robbed seven people of their Rolexes in neighborhoods bordering Beverly Hills.
In response, the city hired Eddy’s firm again. “We’ve been back ever since,” he said.
Los Angeles’ progressive city government reduced the LA Police Department’s budget by $150 million in July, lowering its staff to its lowest level in 12 years. Today, LA has 500 fewer police officers than it did at this time last year.
The irony is that cutting police budgets, noted LAPD officer Steve Robinson, “means less training, which means we are going in the opposite direction. And criminals on the streets are more emboldened.”
There is now a bipartisan recall campaign underway that could remove Gascón from office, and all of the fearful Beverly Hill residents interviewed by The Post said they supported it.
“I think I’m still radical,” said Markowitz, “but I’m radical in the middle. I’m just not on the extreme of anything. I’ve always believed that when you believe in something, you fight for whatever it is.”
This article was originally published at The New York Post