Opinion: A crime wave in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood, caught on camera

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Opinion: A crime wave in L.A.'s Venice neighborhood, caught on camera

These are unsettling times in my Venice neighborhood. Strange behavior and violent crime are nothing new here, where a population of locals, tourists and transients mix in this urban beach setting. Lately, though, things have been weirder than usual.

Last month, a woman who must have been out of her mind led the California Highway Patrol on a chase that ended around the corner from me when she drove her BMW SUV to the west end of Washington Boulevard and across the beach parking lot at the Venice Pier, before plowing across the sand into the surf. She leaped out of the car, abandoning a Boston terrier, and tried to swim away before being fished out of the water by an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department boat. The misadventure was caught on multiple cameras. Miraculously, no one was injured.

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

On Saturday night, half a mile away, a man who has been described as a 41-year-old self-employed chef allegedly livestreamed himself firing rounds from the roof of his apartment building, the Pearl in Marina del Rey. Terrified neighbors got it on video. Again, miraculously, no one was injured.

On April 6, two blocks from my home, two women were viciously attacked and sexually assaulted at the picturesque Venice canals by a man who bashed their heads from behind. One woman has spoken publicly about the assault from her hospital bed; the second woman, so far unidentified, remains hospitalized.

Police have not said yet whether any of the many home security cameras in the vicinity recorded the attacks, which took place between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. I am guessing they did. But security camera footage was critical to the suspect’s arrest in San Diego days later.

More than one home camera showed a man in light-colored clothing walking near or along the canals at the time of the attacks. Those images informed the painstaking sleuthing of a Venice restaurateur who is frequently called on by police to help identify miscreants. Darrell Preston has helped police solve at least one rape, and several shootings and stabbings.

Preston is operations manager of the restaurant group that includes Baja Cantina and the Venice Whaler. He frequently reviews footage from the 50-plus security cameras owned by the businesses in Washington Square, the touristy stretch of Washington Boulevard between Pacific Avenue and the pier. They record 24/7.

After the Venice canals attacks, he spent many hours trying to find images that could have been of the assailant. He was able to track a man between 6:15 p.m., when he was first spotted annoying a young woman waiting to cross the street at Washington and Pacific, and 10:19 p.m., when footage shows him approaching one of Preston’s female employees, who was on the sidewalk outside Baja Cantina talking to her mother on the phone.

The same person, at 8:20 p.m., was captured on footage from inside the Baja Cantina, where he went into a storeroom and took a bottle of whiskey. He also ordered nachos and left without paying.

An hour or so earlier, he had entered the Whaler and walked to the restroom. Like many bars, the Whaler uses a technology called PatronScan to make sure IDs are valid, especially on weekends when things can get crazy. As he entered the restaurant , a camera caught him handing his Nevada ID to the host, who swiped it. Bingo.

Monday, at a news conference, L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascon identified the suspect as Anthony Francisco Jones, 29. He has been charged with forcible rape, sodomy, mayhem, torture and attempted murder.

“We are going to make sure that justice is done,” said Gascon. “These are probably some of the most heinous sexual assaults that I have ever seen.” If convicted, Jones could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Dominic Choi, the Los Angeles Police Department’s interim chief, said Jones had no apparent criminal history in California and a couple of minor incidents elsewhere. But Preston told me: “No one believes this is his first serious crime.”

“The real success is how quickly the community came together and responded whenever we needed anything,” said LAPD Det. Brent Hopkins. “The residents and business owners are the real heroes here who got this crime solved.”

No one deserves more credit than Preston. “I am still finding evidence,” he said Monday.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the ubiquity of security cameras that record practically all our public moments.

Homeowners whose crime-cam Ring videos proliferate on sites such as NextDoor are only showing us what the homeowners would know even without the video: Somebody tried to break in, or somebody succeeded in breaking in. Now what? The posted videos warn the neighbors, I guess, but we don’t often hear about these videos solving crimes. Instead, the cameras can seem less like helpful security and more like unnecessary surveillance.

But after what this neighborhood has gone through in the last month, I am so grateful for the technology. Without it, a brutal suspected rapist wouldn’t be in custody.


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