The killing of a woman in the heart of Hollywood's tourists district is bringing new calls for a crackdown against aggressive panhandlers.
On Tuesday at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, a 23-year-old woman collapsed after being fatally stabbed across the street. Police arrested a transient who had allegedly demanded $1 from her after she took his photo.
The death of Christine Calderon left the Hollywood tourist district stunned and on Friday prompted Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti to call for increased patrols, including by horse-mounted units.
We “don't want to lose any of the ground that's been gained in Hollywood,” Beck said. “What we don't want is for this tragedy to go unrecognized.”
Hollywood’s transformation over the last decade or so has been dramatic. The once-glamorous district had fallen into steep decline for decades, bottoming out in the 1990s when crime reached new highs and many of the old theaters that once dominated the boulevard closed down.
The Hollywood & Highland complex, where Calderon was fatally wounded, is a shopping center that includes the theater where the Academy Awards take place each year . It was the first of several mega-developments that transformed the area. The most recent is the luxury W Hotel development at Hollywood and Vine.
These days, tourists dominate during the day. After the sun sets, Hollywood’s nightclub scene kicks into high gear.
Few argue with how much Hollywood has changed. But those who live and work in the area said gritty patches remain, with a sizable homeless population and plenty opportunities for pretty crime.
Despite its makeover, crime remains a daily occurrence in Hollywood, according to a Times analysis of crime data. Recent weeks showed no unusual increases, but thefts are common in highly-trafficked areas and more than 300 major violent crimes were reported in the neighborhood over the last six months.
Adjusted for population, its violent crime rate ranked 30th and its property crime rate ranked 33rd among more than 200 neighborhoods policed by LAPD or the Sheriff’s Department.
“You get some of everything here,” said Dylan Watson, assistant manager of the American Eagle store at Hollywood & Highland. “Nothing is really surprising.”
It's not uncommon, he said, for someone to approach him during a smoke break outside of the store and ask for cigarettes. If he refuses, he said, the response is often aggression.
“They always seem like they want to fight,” he said. “Some of them are clearly crazy.”
Officials in Hollywood said that they’ve been discussing the need for a crackdown – especially on aggressive panhandlers -- long before Calderon’s death.
Garcetti, who represents Hollywood on the City Council, said some of the panhandling is more like extortion. There have been cases of people handing out CDs and then demanding money as well as performers who pose with tourists and then demand money.
“I’ll be damned if we’re going to go back to where we were a decade and a half ago in Hollywood,” he said in an interview Friday. “I want to have regular prosecutions that will send a clear signal.”
Kerry Morrison, the head of the business improvement district in Hollywood, said one of the biggest concerns is aggressive panhandlers as well as some of the masked costumed characters. In the past, some of the actors have gotten into physical altercations with passersby.
Authorities said Calderon was strolling down the Walk of Fame with a coworker Tuesday at 8 p.m.. She pulled out her cellphone to snap a picture of three transients displaying signs asking for money with four-letter insults and a smiley face.
Moments later, according to a law enforcement source, one of the men demanded she pay a dollar for the picture. When she refused, police say, two of the men allegedly pinned Calderon's co-worker against a wall. The third man, Dustin James Kinnear, 26, alleged jumped on Calderon and fatally stabbed her.
A law enforcement source said Friday that Kinnear had been arrested about three-dozen times over the last six years and was the subject of a stay-away order at the W Hotel. The source spoke on the condition of annoymity because the case was ongoing.
Morrison said Kinnear was also well-known to Hollywood officials. “He was not friendly. He was known in Hollywood,” she said
Kinnear was charged with one count of murder. Neither he nor his attorney could be reached for comment. He pleaded not guilty.
In an interview Friday, Beck said he had discussed the situation along Hollywood Boulevard with Garcetti and incoming City Atty. Mike Feuer. In addition to adding more police, Beck said there has been some discussion about how to better deal with the aggressive panhandling.
“The whole area has changed for the better, but all of that can be in jeopardy if you don't remain vigilant and set strong standards for behavior,” Beck said.
Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of Hollywood's Chamber of Commerce, said Calderon’s death needs to be a call for action.
“This is ground zero for L.A.-- not just for Hollywood,” he said.
Times staff writers Richard Winton and Ben Welsh contributed to this report.
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