LOS ANGELES—Police are ramping up efforts to crush an escalating wave of Los Angeles-area violent crimes that have targeted popular shopping districts, wealthy residents, and celebrities.
One of the “follow-home” robberies recently turned deadly, resulting in the slaying of a 23-year-old man outside a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard on Nov. 23.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) responded to the homicide by announcing the formation of a “Follow Home Task Force.” The county sheriff also declared his intention to take steps to halt the growing trend.
Violent crimes are on the rise in Los Angeles. Area law enforcement reported an increase of nearly 4 percent since 2019, according to the latest law enforcement numbers released in October.
Police Chief Michel Moore said gang violence is an underlying influence.
The department had identified 133 recent robberies connected to the trend of suspects following victims home from Melrose Avenue, the Jewelry District, and high-end restaurants and nightclubs, Moore said.
“The victims were being targeted based on the high-end jewelry they were wearing or the high-end car they were driving,” the LAPD said in a Nov. 24 release.
Last week, the LAPD reported that six gangs were involved in the violent robbery spree.
“When we look at the underlying influences of that street violence … Those involved with gangs continue to be the highest area of concentration,” Moore told NBC Los Angeles in June.
Los Angeles, nicknamed the “Gang Capital of America,” has about 450 active gangs operating in the county, the LAPD reported in September.
Street gangs were involved in a 37 percent increase in homicides by June, Moore told reporters, adding that he believed the overall spikes in killings and shootings were related to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The city has seen a 49 percent increase in homicides, recording 325 in the first 10 months this year, and a 16 percent jump in aggravated assaults.
The number of people shot climbed to 1,203 by Oct. 23—a 50 percent jump since 2019—according to the report. The number of shooting victims was about 122 a month from August through October.
Criminals have also targeted vehicles, resulting in a dramatic rise of 50 percent in auto thefts this year.
During that same time, law enforcement recorded a 28 percent decrease in arrests, with arrests for violent crimes dropping nearly 9 percent in the Los Angeles area.
The LAPD reported making 16 percent fewer traffic stops and almost 2 percent, or 770, fewer arrests this year, compared to last year. Officers made 34 percent fewer stops this year and 31 percent fewer arrests than five years ago.
The apparent gang-related robberies follow a trend—dubbed “burglary tourism” by the police—involving Chilean gangs identified last year.
In 2020, law enforcement alerted the public about gangs of Chilean nationals using visa waivers to come to the U.S. for the purpose of burglarizing homes, businesses, and vehicles.
In February, five Chilean men were arrested in connection to a burglary spree that targeted trailheads and dog parks throughout Thousand Oaks.
‘Follow-Home’ Robberies in US and UK
Similar “follow-home” robberies and crimes targeting celebrities or wealthy residents also have occurred in San Francisco, New York, Houston, and the United Kingdom.
In July, a couple was followed to their San Francisco home and robbed by a man with a semi-automatic rifle, after the suspect rear-ended the couple’s car as they drove home from a mall.
In April, a San Francisco woman also reported being followed home from Richmond to Sunset and attacked for her handbag and jewelry, and a father was held at gunpoint outside his Concord home after being followed home from lunch in Walnut Creek, according to news reports.
County, State to Join Efforts Targeting Criminals
Los Angeles County and state officials said this week they intended to increase efforts to curtail the crime wave. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also said his department would take steps to stop the recent rash of violence.
“This is completely unacceptable,” Villanueva wrote in a social media post on Nov. 23. “As long as I am your Sheriff, we will do what it takes to stop this growing trend of lawlessness. This is what happens when you defund the police.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Nov. 29 he planned to send a budget proposal to lawmakers in January that contained “an exponential increase of support” to help cities and counties fight organized retail theft and “other quality of life issues.”
Decrease in Police Presence
Law enforcement responded quickly at first to the uptick in shootings and robberies in the Melrose Avenue area this year by increasing foot and horse patrols, but that has diminished. The lack of police presence in recent days concerned some residents and businesses on the avenue after a number of robberies.
One longtime resident said police presence in the area was needed to keep crime under control.
“I think it’s very vital to have a constant police presence,” said Ron Ashford, 73, a 30-year resident of the adjacent Fairfax District.
He said he was concerned when the patrols slowed recently, reflecting on the situation on Nov. 24 as he sat at a table on the sidewalk on Melrose Avenue.
He has seen crime increase in the area.
“It wasn’t this bad years ago,” he said.
Ashford says he’s concerned that crime will escalate if police retreat from the area.
“I said, watch, when it dies down, [the criminals] will come back,” Ashford said.
On July 19, three suspects attempted to rob victims at gunpoint in the parking lot of Media Wine and Spirits. One of the victims used his own firearm to shoot at the suspects, apparently hitting two of them, according to the LAPD. Two of the suspects were arrested.
The incident was just one of several violent crimes along Melrose Avenue this year.
In September, outdoor diners were held at gunpoint at La Crème Café and robbed of property. The next day, an employee at the Oldboy Barbershop was also robbed. And in August, a Shoe Palace employee was shot and killed during a shoe raffle.
On Nov. 13, victims were returning home to a short-term rental on North Gardner Street, about a block from Melrose Avenue. They were followed home and robbed at gunpoint by eight suspects after returning from a nightclub.
Media Wine and Spirits owner Askkar said the shooting at his store parking lot was an isolated event.
His customers were doing well and life has returned to “normal” along the avenue after an increase in police presence, he said.
“There is no threat,” Askar told The Epoch Times. “Everything is cool. We’re good and everything is safe.”
Some shops are taking precautions, posting private security outside, or changing the way they operate. The Spitfire Girl clothing store has stopped allowing female employees to close by themselves because of the crimes, a store clerk told The Epoch Times.
“Oftentimes, people are making us feel uncomfortable,” associate Sean Ghedi said.
A store employee who watches the open door to Cookies & Kicks, a shoe store on Melrose Avenue, said he was working when shots were fired during the robbery at Media Wine and Spirits. Their store hasn’t had any problems, the employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Epoch Times.
“This is the nicer part of LA, but it’s still LA at the end of the day,” the employee said.
Celebrities, Wealthy Residents Targeted
Celebrity Dorit Kemsley of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” reported Oct. 27 that she was followed to her Encino home by two men wearing masks. A home video showed the men smashing sliding glass doors to gain entry before taking as much as $1 million in valuables.
Former Black Entertainment Television host “Terrence J” Jenkins was followed to his Sherman Oaks home at about 3 a.m. on Nov. 10 by four masked men in a silver Jeep Cherokee, police reported. One of them ordered him out of his car, but he and a passenger drove away instead, and were followed by the suspects. Shots were fired, but no one was injured, according to reports.
Actor and comedian Jeremy Piven reported a burglary at his home in the Hollywood Hills in October, when $20,000 worth of clothing was stolen, he said.
Singer Rihanna’s Los Angeles home was targeted in July, when a man reportedly jumped over a wall in an attempt to break into her house, police reported.
Residents Increase Private Security
Onguard Inc., a security guard service that serves southern California, has received several requests for service from businesses and residents after the recent “follow-home” robberies.
“There has been an increase in calls and an increase in clients reaching out to us,” Onguard CEO Ray Nomair told The Epoch Times.
One couple requested 24-hour security guards posted in their driveway at their Beverly Hills home until February, while another asked for private protection while her husband was traveling, he said.
The clients are afraid of trespassers breaking in and stealing property, he said.
The Ring video security cameras that residents can install themselves to monitor their properties aren’t enough in these cases, Nomair said.
Police: Don’t Wear Expensive Jewelry, Clothing
The LAPD issued a list of recommendations for area residents to help avoid the robberies.
Police suggested residents shouldn’t wear expensive jewelry or other “high-value” property and to be aware of their surroundings when walking out of a restaurant or other place of business.
“There’s no item of jewelry or piece of property that they have that is worth their life, and so if they find themselves in such a perilous situation, to cooperate, be a good witness. … Do not chase people, do not try to pursue people, and do not try to take actions yourself other than to minimize the chance that you become a victim of the type of violence we saw this morning,” Moore told reporters.
The LAPD recommended that if drivers notice they are being followed, they shouldn’t drive home and instead should go to a police station and call 911.