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MBPD Forum Includes Updates on Property Crimes, Pasha Case

Mar 04, 2023 08:58AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Editor's Note:

At a community police forum on Wednesday night, Manhattan Beach Police gave updates on crime numbers, including recent property crimes, and on high-profile cases such as the Pasha jewelry store robbery.

Crime prevention is an "us" effort that requires the entire community to stay vigilant, Manhattan Beach Police Chief Rachel Johnson told the crowd of about 100.

Johnson called on community members to assist police by securing belongings, staying close with neighbors, participating in the Neighborhood Watch program, and generally being an extra set of "eyes and ears" in the community.

"There’s room for improvement for us, but it’s going to take all of us being vigilant and helping our neighbors to drive those crime numbers down," Johnson told the crowd.

The city of Manhattan Beach earlier this month approved the hiring of seven new police officers and three new police staff positions.

"Public safety is your city council's number one priority - It always is; it always will be," Mayor Steve Napolitano told the group. "It takes all of us to keep Manhattan Beach safe."

Property Crimes Trend Upward

Johnson shared a chart detailing crime trends for the past five years. Overall, property crimes in Manhattan Beach went up 19.9% from 2021 to 2022. Comparing 2022 to the average of the past five years, property crime was up 22.9%.

The largest categories of property crime increases were in larceny and vehicle theft. Larceny went up 29% between 2021 and 2022; and up 24.8% comparing 2022 to the average of the past five years.

Vehicle theft also showed a dramatic increase, going up 18.1% between 2021 and 2022; and increasing a whopping 90.3% when comparing 2022 versus the average of the past five years.

Johnson noted that in fully 50% of the vehicle theft cases, the car had been unlocked or the key was in the car.

Notably, "Surfer burgs" have long plagued El Porto, where surfers leave their car keys or other valuables in and around their car while they surf, creating an easy and lucrative opportunity for criminals to steal their car, valuables, or bank cards.

MBPD Detective Ian Mikelson said that police had recently made two arrests in "Surfer burg" cases, and recovered more than $200,000 worth of cash, jewelry, and high-end watches.

Johnson also noted that changes in the law and prosecutorial practices have both reduced the seriousness of certain property crimes and led to fewer prosecutions. "A lot of the 'stick' we used to have is not there anymore," she said.

The city of Manhattan Beach is continuing to pursue opportunities to prosecute its own misdemeanor crimes.

Pasha, Other Crime Updates

Johnson also gave updates on some high-profile crimes in Manhattan Beach. Regarding the dramatic summer 2022 armed robbery of Pasha Fine Jewelry, Johnson said that the investigation is still ongoing.

"This case is very important to us, and the investigation is ongoing, and the amount of work that Detective Mikelson has put into it already, is quite simply put, astonishing," said Johnson. "However, not everything that we have before us has the evidentiary value that you might think it would."

For instance, she said, although video and photo images captured the license plates on the getaway cars, that doesn't necessarily lead to the criminals: A criminal could steal a car, or steal a license plate and put it on another car.

Regarding whether police should have given chase, either for that case or any other case, she said, "Our decisions to pursue vehicles are really based on the circumstances we have before us at the time, and always one of our considerations is the seriousness of the crime, but also the danger to the public in pursuing."

"With Pasha," Johnson said, "we were pretty close to the car, but we could never see it. While we sent officers to all of our exit points in the city when we received a report of this crime, we were never actually able to see the car so that we could pursue it... It would really just be very dangerous for us to drive very quickly and not safely when we can't even see any of the vehicles as they're leaving the city."

"So our decisions to pursue on that crime, or on any crime, are based on the seriousness of the crime we have on hand and also any other factors at play," continued Johnson. "Even if we had the car in sight, like we did most recently with a call at Vons, based on the traffic patterns and the time of day, we discontinued our pursuit because it was unsafe."

Johnson also noted that while the industry standard response time for priority emergency calls was five minutes, the response time averages 2 minutes and 22 seconds in Manhattan Beach.

"Even if we have to have fewer people in our detective [division] or in other administrative capacities, we will always staff patrol, because our priority remains to be there when you call us. That is our number one mandate," she said. "When it matters, we get there."

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