The rich and famous in Los Angeles are increasingly relying on private security to help protect their families and their homes amid rising violent crime, security professionals say.
“We’ve been getting calls left and right from Beverly Hills, Calabasas, Woodland Hills — all these nice high-premiere areas, nice neighborhoods. Individuals that say, ‘Can I get a security guard to stay overnight from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. just to make sure they’re parked in my driveway in a marked vehicle to deter trespassers and burglars?’” Ray Nomair, CEO of Los Angeles-based OnGuard Inc., told TheWrap.
Nomair noted his security agency has been busier than usual following a spate of well-publicized home invasion robberies and burglaries in recent months, including the shocking murder of Jacqueline Avant, the wife of music mogul Clarence Avant and a pillar of the Los Angeles philanthropic community who was gunned down by an intruder in her Beverly Hills home last month.
A string of celebrities have become victims of home invasions. The Hidden Hills home of “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, was broken into earlier this month while the couple was away, with a million dollars in jewelry reportedly taken. “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Dorit Kemsley was held up at gunpoint and robbed at her Encino home in October 2021. And hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre’s Brentwood home was targeted in an attempted burglary in January 2021, while the rapper was hospitalized.
Because the whereabouts of celebrities and influencers are often publicized in tabloids and on social media, they and their property can be at greater risk, security experts say.
With high-profile crimes making national headlines, Nomair said he’s seeing more people hire private security to protect their homes while they’re out of town. OnGuard offers both armed and unarmed guards as well as marked vehicle patrols. “A couple has gone on vacation for four months. One of our guards is literally house-sitting in Beverly Hills,” he said.
David Chandler, president of the California Association of Licensed Security Agencies, Guards and Associates, noted that many clients want more security coverage now than before. “There’s more people in the gated communities (in Southern California) that are more affluent or are of celebrity status who may have not thought too much of security, only using security part-time, that are now looking to go full time,” he said.
Chandler’s Palm Desert-based private security firm, The Company, has seen an uptick in interest in his services for executive and celebrity protection via undercover bodyguards. “A lot of companies are taking on more executive protection work than they have in the past,” he said.
Between the pandemic, the growing homelessness crisis and breathless news coverage of high-profile crimes, he said people are scared and feel that local police departments are “overtasked.” “There’s no more proactive policing. They just don’t have the time or money for it,” Chandler said. “You have to hire private security if you want to protect yourself or protect your property.”
According to Chandler, some Hollywood stars and social media influencers hire friends, acquaintances or unlicensed guards to accompany them, something he warns can potentially put them at risk. A security officer’s role is to both prevent crime and to observe and report crime.
“You want someone who knows what they can and can’t do, how they can operate within the law,” Chandler said, noting that there are slightly more unlicensed security guards than licensed security officers in the state. “You always have to be worried of a civil lawsuit or criminal lawsuit, which will cost you more money.”
This growing interest in private security comes as Los Angeles leaders confirm crime is on the rise. Earlier this month, city officials reported that violent crime increased in 2021 for the second year in a row. While burglaries and sexual assaults were down, overall violent crime rose 3.9% citywide. Most notably, homicides jumped 11.8% and shootings increased 13%. Property crimes in the city were up 4.2%.
The LAPD has fewer officers on the force than in prior years due to budget constraints and a hiring freeze. However, it has shifted its personnel to focus more on violent crime, particularly shooting violence and robberies, the department said in its 2021 annual report.
“The good work of this department, of our strategies to address violence helped bring what was looking to be a 25% or 30% increase in homicides (earlier in 2021) down to just 11.8%,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters at a Jan. 13 news conference.
LAPD also removed nearly 9,000 firearms from the streets last year, which is a record for the department since statistics have been tabulated, according to the report. Despite the seizures, Garcetti admitted, “Guns are everywhere much more than we have seen in past years.”
In a study of 2021 homicide rates in 22 top U.S. cities, Los Angeles tied with Louisville, Kentucky, for the fifth highest percent increase, according to Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
While many U.S. cities saw increases in homicides, the “good news” is the rate of growth of homicides in L.A. and other cities appears to be slowing, Rosenfeld said.
The bad news, he said, is that Los Angeles’ 12 or 13 percent increase is still worrisome.
While the 397 homicides recorded last year are the highest the city has seen since 2006, the figures are still far below what the city experienced in the mid-1980s and ’90s, when homicides climbed as high as 1,100 or 1,200 per year, according to Jorja Leap, professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Leap also stressed that violent crime still tends to occur in poorer neighborhoods rather than in affluent ones.
While homicides like that of 81-year-old philanthropist Avant in December garnered widespread media attention, there are far more violent deaths in South Los Angeles. Among them, a Taco Bell employee who was shot dead at a drive-thru after he refused to accept a counterfeit bill earlier this month, she noted. “For every one Jacqueline Avant, there are probably 50 to 100 (homicides) in poor areas,” Leap said.
The city of Beverly Hills has reportedly hired private security companies to help police with patrols following a slew of attempted retail crimes during the pandemic.
Ahmad Hamidi, owner of the Irvine-based Secure Guard Security Services, said the company saw an uptick in demand for residential, warehousing and distribution center security shortly after the pandemic began due to criminal activity. His company leased “a lot more patrol vehicles” to show the community and any possible criminals that there is a good security presence, he said.
“Our biggest issue with residential security in the L.A. area is mostly transients breaking in trying to either sleep the night or get a bite to eat or try to cause trouble,” he said, adding that they also sometimes break into shipping yards to open containers. “They’re just trying to make a couple of bucks so they can survive a couple more days. It’s not malicious…They’re more of a nuisance than a threat to our clients.”
Crime does historically ebb and flow, UCLA’s Leap noted. However, the ongoing pandemic and resulting uncertainty, the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and subsequent civil unrest, plus the easy availability of guns have all contributed to people feeling more anxious.
“That’s why crime is out of control,” she said. “It’s this socio-emotional setting we find ourselves in. It’s a steady drumbeat of uncertainty.”
Read Part 1 of Los Angeles at a Crossroads: Crime, Homelessness, High Taxes: Why Hollywood Big Shots Like Ryan Kavanaugh Are Fleeing L.A.