Police investigating man who may be following women, masturbating in Belmont Heights

At least five women have recently taken to NextDoor to warn their neighbors about a man following them in the Belmont Heights and Bluff Heights neighborhoods over the past few months.

In each case, the story is nearly the same: a Hispanic man in his 30s, in an older gray Toyota Corolla:

  • In one instance on June 27, a woman reported that he would move “from block-to-block” as she and her 10-year-old daughter walked near Termino Avenue and Broadway.
  • On Oct. 12, a woman reported she had been followed for more than a mile.
  • About three weeks later on Oct. 29, a woman walking with her toddler and dog noticed the car slowing down as it repeatedly drove past her near Vista Street and St. Joseph Avenue. When she confronted the driver about it, he reportedly told her she looked, “very pretty.”
  • On the morning of Nov. 13, a woman reported that a fellow walker pointed out the man had been following her for several blocks. He reportedly continued to follow her, at times “waiting” for her at the end of a long street.

While all the women say they reported these incidents to police by calling 911 or the non-emergency line, there wasn’t much the department could do about it—other than increase patrols in the area—because technically, following someone isn’t a crime, a spokeswoman for the department said recently.

But that may have changed Thursday when a woman filed a police report about a June 27 incident where she said the man was masturbating in his car after following her for several blocks near Vista Street and Orizaba Avenue.

A screenshot of some of the reports of a man in a gray car following women on NextDoor. Courtesy photo.

This incident, considered indecent exposure, is the only incident of the five that would be considered a crime, LBPD spokeswoman Arantxa Chavarria said.

The woman in the June 27 incident, Bridget Blitsch, called police and reported it the day it happened, but she didn’t know until this week that she needed to also have police take an official report for authorities to investigate.

Blitsch said she was walking her three dogs when she noticed the man looking at his phone in his car on the side of the road. She initially thought he must be lost and looking up directions. It wasn’t until she saw him repeatedly drive ahead of her and then pull over that she thought something was amiss.

“I thought, ‘Now I’m getting a weird vibe,’” Blitsch said.

As she passed his car for the last time, she saw him masturbating with the window rolled down, Blitsch said. He reportedly said something to her, but she didn’t catch what it was. He drove away through a nearby alley after she started taking photos of his car, she said.

Blitsch said she immediately called police but declined to have an officer come out to her because she didn’t feel unsafe at the time. She thought making the call was all that was needed to report the incident, which is a common misconception.

Reporting a crime to 911 or a non-emergency police line is often confused with filing a police report, but for many crimes that isn’t enough, said police spokeswoman Shaunna Dandoy.

Blitsch on Thursday asked for an officer to come to her home and take a report after she learned that’s what was required and she saw other women posting on NextDoor about similar incidents.

“My biggest worry is if there’s a young girl or someone who is more fearful running into him,” Blitsch said.

Her report will now get assigned to a sex crimes detective for investigation, Dandoy said. For now, the east division commander and officers on the street are aware of the incidents and are patrolling the area, she said.

“We’re also working with the emergency communication center to make them aware of the calls so they can alert officers faster,” and put a higher priority on those calls, Chavarria said.

The department also wants to remind residents that they need to report suspicious activity directly to police, not just post it on social media, she said.

Anyone can reach the Long Beach Police Department by calling dispatch at 562-435-6711 or 911 for emergencies.

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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.