West San Fernando Valley Residents Take to Facebook To Stalk, Harass and Terrorize the Homeless with Help From Current And Former LAPD Officers
Sources describe them as “hate groups masquerading as a neighborhood watch”
Sources describe them as “hate groups masquerading as a neighborhood watch”.
The homelessness crisis in Los Angeles has been well documented, here on Knock as well as in local and national media outlets. We’ve had visits from UN Rapporteurs on Poverty and Homelessness, the “housing crisis” has its own podcast, and Senator Bernie Sanders recently held a town-hall meeting in Northridge about the lack of affordable housing and the explosion of people living on the streets in California.
This issue has been a flash-point for community members of all political persuasions. Protests broke out when a homeless shelter was proposed for Koreatown, with residents arguing its presence would be a magnet for drug abusers and those suffering from mental illness.
Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin spent hours being vilified at a meeting filled with angry homeowners, outraged at the unsanitary conditions on city streets and the lack of action by our government.
The West San Fernando Valley is no exception.
Encampments have taken root throughout the area as the city’s homeless population grows by double digits. The area is also home to a number of people living in RVs and campers
Fed up with the city’s response to their growing concerns about “quality of life” issues, homeowners in the area took to Facebook “neighborhood watch” groups to document their experiences, rage against elected officials, and plan their own actions to solve the “problem.”
Two of these groups have been administered by current and former LAPD officers and volunteers. They regularly participate in the discussions and many have turned a blind eye to or even encouraged vigilante violence against people experiencing homelessness.
“Crimebusters of West Hills and Woodland Hills” as well as “Homeless Transient Encampments of our West Valley” are two of the most prominent and active groups, with approximately 10,944 and 3,331 members.
“Crimebusters of West Hills and Woodland Hills” began in 2016 as “Crime Stoppers of West Hills and Woodland Hills” but its founder, Valley Resident Fern Peskin White, quickly changed its name due to a conflict with the already established non-profit Crimestoppers.
Shortly after founding the group, Ms. White appointed LAPD Senior Lead Officer (SLO) Brent Rygh as an administrator via his official City Facebook page.
Around that same time Ms. White, began serving as an LAPD volunteer at Topanga Division, as well as on the area’s Community Police Advisory Board (C-PAB). Devonshire and West Valley divisions have also played a role by joining and at times participating in these groups. After SLO Rygh became an administrator, both he and Ms. White began appointing other local officers to roles, including SLO Sean Dinse, recently a candidate for the City Council District 12 special election.
Dinse and Rygh have a history together, as in the early 2000’s they were appointed to their positions as Senior Lead Officers and paired as partners. Their role as SLOs was to follow crime trends and relay information to the public for their assigned areas. Rygh was tasked with West Hills and Dinse to Woodland Hills.
Dinse and Rygh regularly appeared together at neighborhood watch meetings and according to sources they violated LAPD ethics codes by providing community members with privileged background reports on persons living in a residential rehab wellness homes. Fueled by the illegally leaked information, residents made numerous complaints and the home was eventually forced to close. The people it served were left with one less option for stable housing and a chance to overcome addiction.
In 2017, Ms. White created a sub-group of the “Crimebusters of West Hills and Woodland Hills” called “Crimebusters Homeless Encampments” and quickly began adding members. Ostensibly geared towards documenting the growth of the homeless population in the area, its participants instead used it to target and shame the encampment residents.
SLO Sean Dinse regularly comments on the need for such documentation to remove nuisance activity from neighborhoods, and routinely cites homeless individuals for being an extra inch away from the curb or for sitting too close to the front door of a vacant business. Members post images of homeless residents who are not in violation of any municipal codes and within a day express their thanks to officers who “took care of them.’’
SLO Brent Rygh retired in the summer 2018 and resumed his role as an administrator of both groups. Other admins include Ms. White and retired LAPD Officer Lily Verner.
The behavior of these groups has not gone unnoticed by community members who are sympathetic to the suffering of the homeless and who advocate for compassionate solutions rather than harassment, criminalization and banishment.
From 2017–2018 several complaints were made directly to LAPD regarding the disturbing content of both groups and the involvement of law enforcement. After tepid response from LAPD, community members brought their concerns to national homeless advocacy organizations, including but not limited to the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Together they sent a letter to the State Attorney General’s office in an effort to end LAPD engagement with the groups. After learning of the letter, LAPD temporarily ordered officers to stop engaging with the groups until they attended social media training.
Following the training “Crimebusters Homeless Encampments” was renamed “Transient Homeless Encampments of Our West Valley”. Some LAPD Officers resumed participation in the groups though a few did not return. The content of the groups demonstrates that the training was a complete failure.
As of June 2019, SLO Dinse actively seeks information as to the whereabouts of homeless individuals to coordinate their banishment, with some threads targeting and tracking the whereabouts of specific individuals, as many as 200 times per person.