Samantha Allen-Newman was at
her Mount Washington home this past Thursday when she heard a knock on her
front door. It was 7:45 p.m. and Allen-Newman anxiously wondered who it could be.
A young woman with long, dyed blonde hair was standing outside with two young men—one of them stocky, unshaven and bespectacled, the other slender, with close-cropped hair. The woman asked Allen-Newman if she was interested in signing up for a daycare or afterschool program.
“She was a really fast talker and did all the talking,” said Allen-Newman, who works with children as a girl scouts leader and a catechism instructor at St. Bernard's Parish in Glassell Park. “I am familiar with some of the safety requirements and checks that one has to go through to work with kids,” she said, adding: “So I thought I would sound these guys out, just to see if they were legit.”
Allen-Newman mentioned several children’s programs, including STAR, Carney and Carlin G. When the names didn’t register with the youth standing before her, she tried again, this time mentioning Virtus training, live scan fingerprinting and the FBI sexual predator database.
“Nothing—no recognition of those things,” Allen-Newman told Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch. “I quickly ended the conversation and closed the door.”
It struck Allen-Newman as odd that anyone would come so late in the night and ask about daycare and afterschool care. And she was suddenly reminded that about six weeks earlier, during the Labor Day weekend, a car had been stolen from her street and several vehicles broken into. Because Allen-Newman is part of the Mount Washington Neighborhood Watch program, she wasted no time in calling the police at 1-877-ASK-LAPD as well everyone who lives with children on her street—Avenue 37, between San Rafael and the Roseview Avenue Tacoma Y intersection.
“One of my neighbors called back,” Allen-Newman said. “She has an infant and got hit up right around the same time I did. The three went to her house and asked her if she wanted to purchase newspapers from them and asked her to give her consent in writing for an authorization to withdraw money from her bank account.”
Daily News Offer
According to an e-mail exchange that Allen-Newman had with that neighbor, the young woman who had offered children’s services offered her a 10-day trial subscription of the Los Angeles Daily News. She also mentioned that she and her male associates had been going around the neighborhood offering their services to residents on the opposite side of the street for the past three weeks. Tonight, the young woman added, she was knocking on doors on the other side of the street.
“I spoke to all three of them and asked them where they went to school,” the neighbor wrote. “The fast-talking girl told me she went to Franklin and that they would get credit for doing this and it would count toward their business class in high school. I told her I absolutely didn’t want the Daily News and she told me all three of them would do anything for me as volunteers—they would do gardening, wash my car, etc. In the end, they left. I gave them nothing.”
Same Visitors, Different Pitch
A third neighbor who lives nearby, on Killarney Avenue, reported to Allen-Newman that the three youths had come to her house, too, that night.
them through the peep hole and decided not to open the door,” she wrote to
Allen-Newman in an e-mail. “I heard her talking to the two guys standing back. She
said people in this neighborhood probably worry that the two guys might be
casing their house. She pointed out my [surveillance] cameras to them."
The young woman claimed she’s a neighbor who lives down the street. “She gave me a similar story about some student newspaper,” the neighbor told Allen-Newman. “When I asked if they had a brochure she said they ran out. Then she tried to convince me that it was urgent for me to sign a petition tonight. But I didn't see any of them holding a clipboard or papers. They left after I told her I wasn't interested.”
Allen-Newman reckons that the late-night visitors are casing the neighborhood. “Their real intent is to take a look inside the house for valuables to take at that moment or maybe come back for later,” she told Patch, adding that other possible motives include:
• Seeing who’s home and who isn't.
• Observing whether or not someone is alone in the house.
• Looking to find an unobtrusive point of entry with the intent to commit a crime later.
“Another neighbor verbally told me she saw the female door-knocker peer across the street over a neighbor’s wall to see if there was a way in,” Allen-Newman said. “Add to that the fact that a car was stolen—and later recovered—and several cars on the same street were broken into at the same time and you get a populace that has, I think, reason to be suspicious.”
LAPD: What to do
According to Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Mark Allen, who is in charge of northern Highland Park and a section of Mount Washington, while knocking on people’s doors and offering services isn’t a crime, “if the individuals seem aggressive and don’t take No for an answer, you definitely want to call us.”
Allen recommends asking such people for their identification, which company, if any, they work for, and then calling that company to ask if they do have salespeople out in the neighborhood.
Further, although Franklin High School does require community service hours, and “that is something anybody can take advantage of, knocking on doors and selling newspapers is definitely not what they do,” Allen said.
The bottom line is that “if things don’t add up right and the hair stands up on the back of your neck, there is probably something wrong and you should definitely call us,” the senior lead officer said.
Allen offered this final piece of advice: “Don’t’ he afraid to challenge these people—by challenge I mean ask them for identification, a phone number, which will alert them that it’s time to go.”