Hollywood is a nightlife playground for tourists, celebrities and music fans alike. But sporadic violent crimes have cast a chilling shadow over the thriving scene in recent years. The latest high-profile incident took place on Halloween weekend, when 29-year-old Devion Jelkes, a party-bus patron whose last stop was Couture nightclub, came to the aid of his sister outside the club — only to be fatally beaten.
The attack follows stabbings, shootings and fights in the clubland streets. The violence — including the 2015 beating death of DJ Jose Silva at now-shuttered club Cashmere — often occurs near or after last call, police say. While Hollywood has seen a two-year, 38.6 percent increase in aggravated assaults — often attributed to clubland violence — assaults compared with this time last year are down nearly 9 percent, according to Los Angeles Police Department Hollywood Division captain Cory Palka. In the Hollywood Entertainment District alone, aggravated assaults are down 8.1 percent compared with the same time last year.
Robberies are up 26 percent compared with this time last year, according to the latest police figures. Palka says Hollywood has seen more than 500 robberies in 2016. He says outsider gang members, often armed, have been targeting inebriated clubgoers after last call.
"The robberies are traditionally related to nightlife culture," Palka says. "It brings out more pedestrians and gives robbers with pistols and bodily force opportunity. We know who the suspects are."
As one of the biggest party nights of the year is upon us, LAPD is beefing up personnel with the intent to crack down on club violence, target street robbers and work with venues in an attempt to keep things cool. For New Year's Eve, as many as 300 extra officers will be on the streets of Hollywood, Palka says. Vice cops have been on the lookout for drunks and fights near clubs and in parking lots. And concentrated patrols in areas marked by digital heat maps as hot spots for street robberies are in effect this winter.
"The vice units are working with us Friday and Saturday on the drinking issue in public, outside clubs and in parking lots," says LAPD Lt. Mike Ling, who overseas policing of the Hollywood Entertainment District.
While crime that feeds off of nightlife can be alarming, it's nothing compared with decades past, when drug dealing behind the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was more reliable than finding a decent place to dine — Musso & Frank Grill excepted — along the boulevard. The area was a nightlife wasteland in the 1990s and parts of the ’00s, with only a few spots attracting clubgoers.
Eric Garcetti, who represented the area on the City Council before becoming mayor in 2013, has been a huge booster of the community's nightlife revival, pitching it as a job creator and economic savior — claims that have turned out to be true. But the surge also has brought some negative aspects to the neighborhood.
Elvina Beck, president of the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, says the biggest complaints for locals boil down to three things: "noise, garbage and urination."
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Beck supports nightlife and says the neighborhood council recently endorsed a project by the Tao Group, known for its Las Vegas nightclub, which will bring nearly a block's worth of venues, including a 178-room hotel and 333-seat restaurant, to Selma Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard.
But Beck says some neighborhood leaders are wary of too much alcohol in the community. She says questions were raised when Trejo's Tacos asked for the council's support to include hard alcohol on its menu instead of just beer and wine. And Tao's Hollywood eatery, which a publicist repeatedly said would be only a restaurant, has applied for a hard-alcohol license and plans to feature DJs, according to city documents and to the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.
Still, those are the by-the-rules players, which appear to be mostly welcome. Police are more concerned with venues that flout the law and refuse to work with authorities. Three venues, Supper Club, Cashmere and Cosmo, have been shut down in recent years for those reasons, Palka says. "Cosmo started opening under the radar after-hours," he explains. "We closed it again two weeks ago."
Any sense that cops are anticlub is wrong, he adds. Police just want people to be safe. "We support a healthy nightlife in Hollywood," Palka says. "It creates a healthy economy. We work in this together with the City Council and the business owners and community. We believe in fair-and-balanced policing."