Fighting Back

Residents of Silvius Ave. in the Coastal San Pedro area pose for a picture on July 20 during their neighborhood block party, which was organized to bring awareness to the rash of home burglaries and to install security cameras in the neighborhood. (photos by Kelsey Duckett)

It’s a model that one small neighborhood, about 60 homes, is hoping will become the norm throughout the streets and neighborhoods in San Pedro – it’s simple, cost-effective and an effort to deter thieves from targeting homes.

It all started after a couple home break-ins turned into a rash of home and vehicle burglaries – six homes, 11 vehicles in 18 months – in one Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood on Silvius Avenue.

Residents were fed up and decided it was time to fight back.

That’s where Michael Herzmark came in, he spearheaded a neighborhood watch, planned two meetings, contacted Councilman Joe Buscaino and LAPD Senior Lead Officer Matt Vuoso, and started the push to get cameras installed on every home.

“My house was broken into in the middle of January, we were about the fourth or fifth burglary,” he says. “Enough was enough. It wasn’t just the stuff they took, it was the fact that they were in our home, going through our drawers. They violated our privacy and sense of security.”

So Herzmark knocked on his neighbors’ doors, all 60 of them, and suggested a meeting at White Point Elementary School. The turnout was more than Herzmark could have imagined, and better yet, the neighborhood had a plan.

Captain Nancy Lauer, Commander of LAPD Harbor Division, and Councilman Joe Buscaino attended the block party to lend their support.

A handful of residents, including Herzmark, installed security and surveillance systems in their homes. But a month later, Easter Sunday of last year, another home was broken in to, this time though, they had an image off of one of the neighbor’s cameras.

“We thought we finally caught the people involved,” he says. “But when we looked at the image it was too small, and too far away to see anything.”

Herzmark spoke with his neighbors and they knew if they could get everyone in the neighborhood to put up a camera, they would “have an unbroken view of the street,” he says.

“Again the residents got talking, we had another meeting and we decided to have a block party where the handy neighbors on the street could install cameras for anyone who bought them.”

The block party took place on Saturday, July 20 – about 100 neighbors showed up, fired up the grill, brought desserts and drinks, and while the kids played and neighbors visited, three groups of neighbors went around to various houses and installed cameras and surveillance systems.

Angeline Barnes, a block resident, had a camera and security system installed during the block party. She was the first break-in on the street, almost two years ago.

“They broke in through a window of mine and took all my jewelry, cash, an iPad and a camera among other things,” she explains. “It was a difficult time, I didn’t feel safe in my home and it just was a violation of my privacy.”

Barnes said she was thrilled with the idea of a block party, saying it not only brought the neighborhood out to help fight crime, but also was an event that allowed neighbors to meet and get to know one another.

“I have lived here for almost 40 years, and there are people that I just met today,” she says. “I spent a couple hundred dollars on these cameras and my neighbors are installing them and syncing them with my computer and phone. It’s fantastic.”

While some were installing cameras, others were posting signs on fences and street posts.

Residents installed security cameras on a number of homes along Silvius Ave.

“The installation of these cameras will not only ensure that individuals who commit crimes in this neighborhood can be brought to justice, but also sends out the message that this neighborhood has created a unified front against crime,” Vuoso says. “Facebook continues to be a great tool for both the police and citizens to share information vital to the safety of the community. The two together have taken the concept of neighborhood watch to a new level.”

Los Angeles police Capt. Nancy Lauer, the Harbor Division commander, also attended the block party and endorsed the community’s effort to use cameras and signs as a tool to help deter criminals.

“I applaud their initiative and willingness to get involved,” says Lauer. “Anytime we can work in partnership with a neighborhood is a big benefit and a positive for both the neighborhood and the police department.”

She also told the neighbors at the party that the Harbor Division has had great success in solving crimes through surveillance cameras on homes and businesses.

“Criminals aren’t just bound to one neighborhood,” she says. “Criminals are always on the move, and we have had success in capturing a suspect that committed a crime in one area by using video footage from another.”

Lauer did say that crime in the neighborhood, which includes Silvius Avenue and is bounded by Gaffey Street, Paseo del Mar and Hamilton and Weymouth Avenues is down.

“Major crime is down 57 percent in this area from last year,” she says.

She did note that any crime is too much, and each step neighborhoods take to secure their homes and their community will be beneficial.

Last year there were 21 cars broken into compared to 10 vehicles to date this year, there were 10 cars stolen compared to five this year and 14 burglaries compared to five this year.

Councilman Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who worked in San Pedro as a senior lead officer, says the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Watch Facebook group is the largest in the area with more than 500 members. “This is exactly the type of proactive initiative I was hoping for when my office launched a series of Neighborhood Watch Groups on Facebook nearly a year ago,” says Buscaino. He adds that using the Facebook group to inform each other “will bring new meaning to ‘neighborhood watch.’”

“They have just raised the bar on crime prevention,” he says.

Herzmark adds that with “the installation of these security cameras we are going to make it as difficult as possible for criminals to operate in our neighborhood.”

“We hope this is a model that other San Pedro neighborhoods will adopt,” he continues. “It is time to take back our streets in our city. We are here not only with a model, but to help other neighborhoods implement it as well.” spt

For Love Of The Game

Shelley Smith, photographed at San Pedro High School (photo by John Mattera)

It’s November, the heart of college football season, and for Shelley Smith, that means no rest, several flights in-and-out of LAX and every Saturday spent at a different football stadium across the country.

But it’s not just college football that keeps Smith from curling up on the couch to the latest blockbuster hit, it’s also Thursday night NFL games, pre-season NBA games, the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal and the continued lockout talks of the NHL strike.

It’s these precise reasons though, that get Smith out of bed each and every morning, well these and her daily trips to the local San Pedro gym, Hey Day Fitness, where she can talk sports without the pressure of a camera in her face.

Smith loves her job, and she loves it because “no single day is the same.”

Smith joined ESPN in 1997 and quickly became one of the leading ladies in sports journalism. She has climbed the ranks and has had great success in doing so, including four Sports Emmys, one of which she received in 1997 for her segment on Magic Johnson as part of an ESPN production on AIDS and Athletes.

But she didn’t start at the top. For Smith, having an interest and passion for journalism started at a young age. But back then, it was an interest in breaking news and features, she hadn’t even considered a career in sports.

A Denver native, Smith attended the University of Nebraska, where she majored in journalism and political science. During her time at Nebraska, Smith wrote for the college newspaper and through this came an opportunity for lunch with an alumnus, who happened to be the sports editor at a major newspaper in Denver.

“In college I thought I wanted to go into news or features reporting,” she says. “That all changed when the editor called me and offered me a gig in the sports department.”

Smith shooting a story on the “most dangerous golf hole in the world” along the DMZ in South Korea for ESPN in 2009. Smith originally covered the golf course in 1988 for her very first Sports Illustrated story. (photo by Dylann Tharp)

The editor took notice in Smith, and she never looked back. Now a sideline reporter for ESPN, Smith is an award-winning journalist and author of three books, with a fourth — Al: The unauthorized biography of Raiders owner Al Davis – on its way. But she says it’s been a constant challenge, and she has always set out to outwork and out prepare her peers.

“You make your own luck in this field by working hard,” says Smith. “If you are well prepared and work harder than anyone else you can make up for what you lack in talent. It is really about taking the extra time and getting it right, but don’t get me wrong, I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time a couple times.”

Case in point, the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Smith was in Seoul covering the Olympics for Sports Illustrated when word broke that Canadian Ben Johnson would be stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for steroids. Upon hearing the news, Smith, along with a photographer, raced to the airport, where Johnson would soon be boarding for a flight to New York – Smith got on that flight, sat with Johnson for 45 minutes and conducted the first one-on-one interview, an exclusive.

“When I got on that plane I knew it would be my big break,” she recalls. And it was.

The Ben Johnson exclusive is arguably Smith’s biggest story ever – and she says she will never forget the rush of it all.

“I knew it would be the biggest story I would ever cover,” she says. “It was the middle of the night, a double-decker plane, and I knew I was sitting on something huge. It was the greatest feeling in the world to get off the plane with hoards of reporters waiting for Johnson’s arrival and walk past them knowing I already had the story.”

This was just the start for Smith, who was offered a position with Sports Illustrated in 1989, and six months later was asked to make a move to the West Coast from New York.

“When I was in college, we print journalists thought broadcast journalists should be in the drama department,” she says. “We thought we were the only serious journalists – so when I accepted the position at Sports Illustrated in 1989, I had reached my destination, I was a writer and that’s what I wanted.”

Upon arriving in California, she made her home in San Pedro.

“I loved San Pedro,” she says. “The air was clean, it was a affordable and it didn’t seem like big, splashy Los Angeles.” Smith’s daughter, Dylann Tharp, was three at the time, and she wanted her to grow up in a good community.

“It was important, with all the traveling I do, to have a place to come home to,” she says. “A place to exhale – I have stayed in San Pedro ever since.”

Tharp, now 26, was a fixture on working road trips. Smith remembers various all-star games where Tharp would sit on the floor next to her and play with Barbies while Smith covered the game – so much so, that Tharp began to interact with the players and would later track them down for her Mom.

“I took Dylann with me a lot,” says Smith. “She grew up with Charles Barkley essentially – they are still good buds. She was with me on the NBA or NCAA tournament trail and also went with me to all the bowl games.”

“There is a photo above my fireplace where Barkley is holding her at the Minnesota All-Star Game, after chastising me for using my kid to do all my work, my producer said, ‘Does she know Shaq?’”

Tharp, after graduating from San Pedro High School, captained the University of Oregon soccer team and in 2007 was named to the Pac-10 second team. She majored in art and communications at Oregon, and is now living and working in Los Angeles.

Since Smith joined ESPN in 1997, she has recorded hundreds of articles and reports on topics ranging from the Olympics to the O.J. Simpson trial. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS national championship game, the NHL Stanley Cup, golf and tennis championships, ski racing, weightlifting, boxing and motor sports.

“I’ve always wanted to write stories,” she says. “Making the transition to ESPN was difficult, it was a lot of training – hair training, make-up training, where to stand training, voice training — but I love it, I love being a sideline reporter. I love my job, and I love even more that everyday presents a different challenge — no day is the same.”

In addition, she is the co-founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation newsletter, serves on various committees for The Boys & Girls Club of San Pedro and is a volunteer writer for many charity organizations, including the Serra Project, which provides homes for AIDS victims.

Smith plans on walking the sidelines for sometime. She loves that her weeks can range from USC football, to Lakers basketball, to baseball and the NFL.

“I am writing a book on Al Davis, which is the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says. “But I have also found a new passion for jumping on stories. I love my job, I love it all. Everyday is different, the sports world is always changing, and something is always happening.” spt