Neighborhood Watch: Local residents are encouraging their neighbors to stay aware & get connected

Apr 11, 2024

Burglary crimes are up in Westchester and Playa del Rey and a group of concerned residents are doubling down on new efforts to ramp up local Neighborhood Watch programs. Through boots-on-the-ground observations, sharing info on social media, and good old neighborly check-ins, community leaders are encouraging their neighbors to stay aware and get connected.

At left: Public safety advocates including Cyndi Hench, George Aceves, Alison White and NCWP Public Safety Chair John Logsdon help promote the Neighborhood Watch program. At right: Security Service Systems President George Aceves goes on patrol in Kentwood.

The Women on Watch.

When I called Westchester homeowner and Neighborhood Watch Captain, Alison White, on a Friday afternoon, there was an urgency in her voice.

“You’re catching me at a very interesting time. I’m chasing a burglar,” said White.

I suggested I call her back at a better time and hung up the phone.

When I finally spoke to White at length, she told me a neighbor in her area had posted on the Neighborhood Watch Whatsapp group that somebody knocked on her door and was asking odd questions like who was at home and if they had a nanny. The man was wearing a blue telephone company shirt but there was no work truck nearby. To White, this was very suspicious behavior considering that in February of this year, she tracked 28 home burglaries in 29 days in Westchester and Playa del Rey.

After a call to the police, White, along with two other Westchester residents, all hopped in their cars and began driving up and down the neighborhood streets, looking for any unusual activity.

“I swear I’ve been up and down every street in North Kentwood and I can’t find him,” White said.

Though no suspect was found that day, the efforts seemed to pay off since there was no break-in reported. And that’s exactly what White and others are hoping for: to create and share any suspicious activity in the area and let the criminals know they are being watched before a crime is committed.

“By the time we hear about burglaries, the guys are usually gone,” says White. “What happens is someone will report seeing three guys running away from a house. We love the LAPD, but the guys are long gone by the time the call comes in. We are like boots on the ground. We’re able to get there a lot faster to get descriptions, license plates, whatever. And that helps LAPD because what LAPD has said is that it’s very rare that they’re going to catch a burglary in progress.”

Most criminals know they have between seven to 10 minutes to get in and out of a home and steal valuables like cash and jewelry.

White has gotten creative when it comes to protecting her home and “hardening the target.”

Most burglars are hopping over fences and entering homes by breaking sliding glass doors, so White has added spikes on her gate and installed security film on the doors to make them harder to shatter.

Her best tips for protecting your home?

“Obviously, having cars parked in the driveway, keeping lights on–I mean, all the normal stuff of making it look like somebody’s home,” said White. “What we’ve seen is that they don’t want to break in when somebody’s home. Keep an eye on your surroundings, make sure no one’s watching you when you’re coming and going and essentially be in touch with your neighbors. I think we realized the single most important thing you can do is have an open line of communication with your neighbor, because they’re really the eyes and ears on the ground for what’s going on.”

She also adds, “If you make your house more difficult, [burglars will] move on to somewhere else where it’s easier.”

A variety of deterrents for stopping crime.

A Neighborhood Watch Geek.

Started by Westchester residents Cyndi Hench and Julie Zaller, the Westchester/PDR Neighborhood Watch Group on Whatsapp is now up to 450 members and growing. Since the group is private to maintain its integrity and to keep criminals off the text chain, you have to know someone who’s already a member and then be vetted to join.

“We all want to live in Mayberry, but we don’t,” she says.

The Neighborhood Watch Whatsapp group has been a helpful tool in sharing information in real time.

While Hench shares that the community has a great relationship with the local LAPD Senior Lead Officers, the burden can’t rest only on understaffed law enforcement.

“I think that as a community we just need to stand a little tougher,” Hench adds.

Describing herself as a “Neighborhood Watch geek,” she says she got involved with the program about 20 years ago when her own home was burglarized. Over the last two decades, she’s seen the tactics used by criminals change and evolve.

“When I was burglarized, we had a crew that were called the ‘Liquid Bandits.’ What they would do is squirt shampoo on the alarms and disable them and then go about their business in your house. A few years later, we went through a series of ‘knock, knock burglars.’ These guys would knock on your front door and check to see if anybody was home, and then go around the back and break in. Now, we’ve got this crew of people who are getting in the back yard, jamming Wi-Fi and cameras and breaking in through back windows and doors,” says Hench.

Another thing that’s different this time around is social media, which can help to quickly spread the word about suspicious activity through the community, but can also cause everything to get unnecessarily magnified.

“You hear about one burglary or maybe even just an attempted burglary, but it can turn into a game of telephone. It gets exaggerated and then it gets repeated, maybe 10 times, on different social media platforms,” says Hench. “So, it seems way, way worse in our minds than in reality. It’s a double-edged sword.”

But she shares that one helpful tool in the prevention of break-ins is Security Service Systems (SSS), a private patrol company that anyone in the area can utilize for a fee.

“We don’t have HOAs to fund private security in this neighborhood. But George [Aceves, owner of SSS] has stepped up and is doing something unique,” she says.

Protect, Observe & Report.

SSS has been providing private security in Westchester and Playa del Rey for more than 20 years, but has recently restructured its offerings to make its services more affordable.

“We’re making it up in volume and by adding more services,” says Aceves, who shares that after owning the company for 35 years, he’s now actually out in the field on patrol for the first time and loving it.

He says he remembers the “knock knock bandits” who used to break-in during the day, but now burglaries are occurring at all hours.

“We’re staggering the patrol hours now for that, and it seems to be working out. A lot of our officers have actually been out there and seen some suspicious people in cars, so they ran them out,” he says.

To prevent home burglaries, Aceves recommends working with your neighbors, being observant, changing the pattern of when you leave the house, leaving a car in the driveway and making sure your home is well-lit at night.

“Right now, they’re coming by with scramblers and scrambling the internet signals. They’re ripping out alarm systems, so have an audible alarm with a strobe light,” he says, adding that everyone should have multiple layers of protection like cameras, window contacts and interior motion detectors.

Aceves says that these days there are many more unfamiliar people in residential areas, from food delivery drivers to Amazon deliveries, so spotting criminals can be tricky.

“One thing I’ve learned that makes a big difference is making eye contact when you’re driving. If somebody is up to no good, you can see it in their eyes, just in their expression on their face, they start getting nervous and that’s one thing that’s worth noting,” he says. 

Dogs Help Deter.

Longtime Westchester resident Julie Zaller has made it her mission to keep the community informed on the latest break-ins, connect with the LAPD, compile stats and keep track of suspicious activity in the neighborhood via the Whatsapp group and community Facebook pages.

She has a few tips for keeping your property safe.

“In terms of keeping your car safe, definitely don’t leave anything inside and make sure it’s locked every night. With your house, some people are putting a protective film on the windows to help keep the glass from breaking easily,” Julie shares. “Another idea is to replace your old, faded sign from your security company with a new one. But I think our biggest asset for hardening your house is your dogs. LAPD will tell you that is the biggest deterrent, probably because they’re loud, and it’s just something else they have to deal with.”

A Community Coming Together.

Though crime is never a good thing, there is perhaps one silver lining: The situation is bringing the community together for a singular purpose.

“Everybody being connected and aware has been the best thing!” says Zaller. “I’ve lived here 20 years and I’ve never seen our neighborhood connected as it is now.”

Resources to Check Out.

• The NCWP holds a Public Safety Committee meeting every other month at the Airport Police Facility’s Community Room. During the meetings led by committee chair John Logsdon, crime stats are shared, police officers give updates and neighbors have a chance to discuss their concerns. Visit to get the details on the upcoming May meeting.

• Interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch Program? Contact your LAPD Senior Lead Officer!

-Westchester (east of Sepulveda), Senior Lead Officer Luis Pinell at (310) 622-3976 or via email at

-Westchester (west of Sepulveda and Playa del Rey), Senior Lead Officer Sophie Castaneda at (310) 622-3978 or email

-Playa Vista, Senior Lead Officer Javier Ramirez at (213) 705-8967 or email

Learn more at

Burglary Prevention Strategies from the LAPD.

• Have a security system, including cameras, motion detectors and an audible alarm. Leave posted security signs outside your home.

• Keep all doors and gates closed and locked.

• Keep lights on during darkness, both inside and outside the house.

• Houses with high fences or high vegetation provide concealment for burglars and are targeted at a higher rate.

• Establish a Neighborhood Watch. Keep in contact with neighbors and alert them when leaving for multiple days.

• Keep valuables locked up preferably in a hidden and breach-proof safe. Do not keep large amounts of cash hidden in the house.

• Keep vehicle keys out of sight and in a secure location.

• Dogs are a burglar’s worst nightmare.

• Be aware of your surroundings when leaving your residence and coming home. Keep an eye out for suspicious cars or for people who don’t live in the neighborhood sitting inside a vehicle.

• If you see something suspicious, call 9-1-1 and report it.

• If your house has been broken into, do not go inside, call 9-1-1.

Additional questions or concerns about burglaries? The Pacific Division Burglary Detectives can be reached at (310) 482-6313.

Story by Shanee Edwards. Photos by Zsuzsi Steiner.

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