The manager of an apartment building on Hacienda Place in West Hollywood appears to have brought to a halt a series of break-ins by warning the thieves that he’s watching them.
According to the manager, on four occasions two men entered the building and went to its downstairs laundry room to break into coin boxes. On each occasion they obscured the security camera lens, the first time with blue painters tape, the second time using lint from the clothes dryers, the third time with newspaper and scotch tape and the fourth time with a large surgical bandage. Because a digital video recorder for the security cameras was not working, the manager wasn’t able to capture photos of the men during the first three break-ins.
On their first visit, the men busted open the locked laundry room door and broke into the coin boxes, which the manager estimated contained a maximum of $40 in change. On subsequent visits they didn’t break the coin box, which had been replaced, but appeared to have forced it open in another way.
The final visit was a week ago Sunday around 8 a.m., when the digital video recorder system was working.
“They forced open the entry door, made their way to the laundry, covered the camera with a large surgical style band aid, and wandered around the garage, left the laundry room and headed to the lobby,” the manager said. (WEHOville agreed not to list the street address of the building or name the manager for safety reasons.)
The security video showed the larger of the two men, wearing what seemed to be a hospital scrub shirt, exiting the building with a black satchel that appeared to be weighted down with coins. The other man, dressed in what looked to be a maintenance worker uniform, was seen on video taking UPS packages from the building’s lobby mailbox area and placing them into a greenish sack.
The building manager used those images to create posters for the front door of the building, which is where the men apparently entered, that warned them in English and Spanish that they had been identified. The posters asked tenants to alert the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station if they saw the man and also included copies of a complaint filed with the Sheriff’s Station.
This morning at 7:30 a.m. it was clear that the posters worked. According to the building manager, the security camera captured a man and woman getting out of a white car on the street and casually walking to the building’s front door. The man, wearing a hoodie and carrying a satchel, read the notice. They then made an about face and left.
The building manager said he reported the break-ins to the Sheriff’s Station, but felt the deputy he dealt with was dismissive because to him it seemed like a petty crime, which technically is one involving less than $950 in loss or damages.
The building manager views the thefts as more serious, given that the men entered the front door by force, removed laundry room door knob, disabled surveillance camera, broke four coin boxes costing $350 to repair and replace, stole coins and UPS packages and returned on four separate occasions.
That the thieves were able to enter the lobby through the locked front door suggests they may have used a key to the lobby. Use of such keys was an issue in a rash of mailbox break-ins in West Hollywood and elsewhere in Los Angeles in 2015 and 2016. What appeared to be an organized group of thieves used so-called Post Office master keys to open the front doors of apartment and condo buildings as well as open the front panel of the group of individual mailboxes. Such keys are used by postal delivery workers and were supposed to have been kept securely. In most apartment buildings, access to the front lobby gives one easy access to the rest of the building.
In May 2016, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it had replaced 600 master key locks since January of that year.
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