Beverly Hills is afraid. Very afraid.
Two weeks ahead of what may prove the most contentious election in American history, rumors and fears of mass civil unrest are swirling through Beverly Hills’ lavish neighborhoods, leaving residents feeling spooked and uneasy.
“If I buy a gun, can I get training from the police department?” a male resident asked a Beverly Hills Police Department official during an Oct. 20 town hall Zoom meeting.
Foreboding was the prevailing mood at the event organized by the BH Flats Neighborhood Watch, which drew more than 100 angsty residents eager to hear the city’s plans for staving off election-week “civil unrest, chaos and crime,” as one participant put it.
Across the country, police departments are working with local residents to beef up security around the Nov. 3 election. But in Beverly Hills, emotions are still raw four and a half months after a protest on Rodeo Drive, one of the world’s premier luxury shopping districts spiraled into a scene of dystopian destruction. Stores were vandalized and looted, while city landmarks throughout the Beverly Hills business triangle were tagged with the menacing words “eat the rich.” The chaos left many residents of the nation’s most famous zip code distressed and anxious.
This time around, they’re preparing for the worst.
At the town hall, the city announced a new emergency preparedness program, “Just in case BH” that, come election week, will effectively turn Beverly Hills into a surveillance state.
Wearing a striped cardigan, bright red lipstick and a Chanel belt, BH Flats Neighborhood Watch founder Pamela Beck kicked off the meeting, welcoming residents — many of them Jewish, including the city’s current and former mayors, Lester Friedman and Lili Bosse — who all Zoomed from sparkling pools, endless lawns and soaring living rooms. Zoom’s “gallery view” showed off actual fine art, with one resident framed beneath a spitting image of a Kandinsky. Another resident’s camera revealed what looked like a Braque.
“Let’s move into what we’re all anxious about,” Beck said from her sleek home office.
She introduced Beverly Hills Chief of Police Dominick Rivetti, an affable and understated law enforcement vet, who has 45 years experience, a moustache and a bald patch. With perfect equanimity, Rivetti explained the measures the city would implement to ensure city safety.
“We have no intelligence that we’ll see anything specific,” Rivetti warned, “but we want to be prepared for the worst.”
Beginning on Halloween, he said, all officers in the force will be on tactical alert, taking 12-hour shifts “with no days off and no vacation” until the Saturday following the election. BHPD has also ramped up its force to staffing levels Assistant Chief of Police Marc Coopwood described as “some of the highest we’ve ever seen.”
The city has contracted with two private security companies to hire an additional 80 armed security officers who will help patrol the business district — “similar to the way we used the National Guard back in June,” Rivetti said.
Rodeo Drive, the city’s most famous address and a major tourist destination, will be closed to vehicular traffic, with cement K-rails blocking off the street until after election day. “We’ve seen that demonstrators and anarchists are lighting vehicles on fire, including police vehicles,” Rivetti said. “K-Rails are fireproof.”
Rivetti also announced that the district’s luxury stores have voluntarily decided to board up their retail sites “based on past experience.”
The city is also receiving aid from Los Angeles County, the U.S. Marshall’s Office and the State of California Department of Justice, which will provide police officers in both marked and unmarked cars as well as a SWAT team to help BHPD patrol the city.
But despite these unprecedented efforts, residents on the call were not exactly satisfied. During a lengthy Q-and-A, they typed questions into the chat that suggested more unusual areas of concern.
“Will you be protecting us from armed private militia groups like Proud Boys and Q-Anon?” one resident asked.
In recent weeks, some residents reported receiving a threatening email from a group calling itself Proud Boys and insisting the recipient vote for Trump or else.
Law enforcement was quick to dismiss the emails as a scam, saying similar letters have been circulating around the country. Earlier this week, both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported that Iran and Russia are behind various email disinformation campaigns. BHPD confirmed that the FBI is now handling the investigation.
Still, Rivetti played savior. “We’re committed to protecting the entire city from all threats, from all angles, from all points, from all directions,” he answered.
“Why can’t the police department block off the streets that border our city, just like they did during the Rodney King riots?” another resident asked. This idea got some traction. “If there’s a concern for violence,” another chimed in on the chat, “why allow anyone to demonstrate?”
Rivetti then schooled the crowd on constitutional rights, pointing out the difference between the 1992 Rodney King riots and the more recent racial justice protests.
“I’d like to remind everybody that in 1992, the verdict was read at 3:30 in the afternoon and within an hour and a half, greater Los Angeles was subject to rioting, looting, arson, murder, assaults, immediately. Nobody was asking to demonstrate their constitutional rights. It became a lawless, violent situation,” Rivetti said.
“This time around, people are asking to demonstrate their constitutional right to freedom of speech, so we have to allow people to exercise their constitutional rights. Unfortunately, embedded in those people doing things lawfully are anarchists and people with criminal intent and that’s what we experienced on May 30.”
Rivetti pointed out that Beverly Hills has since allowed tens of thousands of people to exercise their right to protest, including L.A.’s formidable Armenian American community, which recently demonstrated on Wilshire Blvd. against Azerbaijan. “As long as [people] do so in a peaceful, lawful manner, we facilitate people exercising their constitutional rights,” he said.
But that didn’t convince everyone.
“Is it a protester’s constitutional right to block traffic and take over streets? Why can’t a specific area be allocated for free speech?” one participant asked.
Purchasing and brandishing firearms proved another popular subject.
“What is Beverly Hills’ position on protecting the inside of your property line with a firearm displayed if you are feeling threatened and are trained efficiently?” one female resident asked.
She was likely referring to St. Louis couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who made national headlines over the summer when they stood in their front yard and waved guns at protesters demonstrating in their neighborhood.
Rivetti didn’t recommend that. “It can be very dangerous to have a gun in the home if you’re not proficient with a firearm.”
“But what if rioters enter our property?” another asked.
“If anyone intrudes on your property, that is a 9-1-1 phone call,” assistant chief Coopwood said.
When someone complained that Beverly Hills should have more camera surveillance “like London and other world-class cities,” Rivetti’s competitive side surfaced. He countered that Beverly Hills is “the most photographed city in the entire United States — more than London,” adding that over 1400 CCTV cameras are deployed throughout the city. Plus, the city council recently approved $1.4 million to install another 200 cameras before the new year.
The overall message? Don’t mess with Beverly Hills.
“Our strategy in developing this plan is to have such a show of force throughout the city, it will be a tremendous deterrent,” Rivetti said. “If somebody wants to do something unlawful or illegal, they’re gonna have to go someplace else.”