(KTLA) — The Los Angeles Police Department has tied at least 17 gangs from South L.A. to the surge of “follow-home” robberies targeting people who wear jewelry or drive luxury vehicles throughout the city, officials said Tuesday.
Police said they noticed a sudden increase in violent armed robberies that involve victims being followed from places like Melrose Avenue, downtown L.A.’s Jewelry District or high-end Hollywood restaurants and nightclubs.
Many of the robberies involve armed assailants, with shots fired in nearly two dozen of the reported incidents.
LAPD formed a task force late last year to investigate these “follow-home” or “follow-off” robberies.
Capt. Jonathan Tippet told the civilian Police Commission on Tuesday that the phenomenon was almost unheard of before last year.
“In my 34 years in the LAPD, I have never seen this type of criminal behavior in such large groups, coordinating to conduct attacks on unsuspecting citizens to take their property,” Tippet said.
People have been tackled, kicked, beaten, punched and pistol-whipped in the head during these robberies. “It is a miracle that more deaths have not occurred,” Tippet said.
Some of the robberies have, however, been deadly.
In one case, a man was shot while trying to defend his girlfriend when robbers tried to forcibly remove her watch and jewelry, police said.
“Extremely coordinated” robbery crews
LAPD noticed a spike in these types of violent robberies between September and October, with detectives noticing a pattern: vehicles of multiple armed suspects were working in a coordinated effort to rob victims of their high-end cars or jewelry.
Tippet said investigators reviewing video surveillance of the robberies noticed that the crews are “extremely coordinated.”
The robbers are oftentimes in contact with each other, sometimes with “spotters” inside businesses watching for victims and letting crew members outside know who to keep an eye on, the captain explained.
Several vehicles are typically involved, with robbers coming out of the cars in large groups, usually armed.
Tippet said that many of the robberies start off violently, with attackers not allowing time for the victims to comply with demands for their watches or jewelry.
A total of 51 of these violent armed robberies were identified in that two-month period between September and October.
LAPD seeing resurgence after robberies decrease for a few months
Typically, LAPD would try to identify everyone involved before trying to take down crews. But “due to the crisis,” investigators started operating differently, the captain said.
Police made quick arrests as soon as suspects were identified, and used the information they got from search warrants and interviews to find other crew members. LAPD says this strategy helped disrupt the crews and, for a while, reduced the number of robberies on L.A.’s streets.
L.A. went from a high of 26 of these robberies during a two-week period in November, to seven during the most recent two-week period, according to the captain.
“We had some months where the velocity dropped quite a bit and we started working on the follow-up,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said.
But there has been a “resurgence” in recent days, Moore added.
In the 48 hours before Tuesday, five additional incidents were reported. One of them involved robbers striking a woman with a car as she tried to run away from them while they chased her to take her watch.
Are gangs working together?
As of April, the LAPD task force has identified a total of 221 “follow-home” or “follow-off” robberies in the city of Los Angeles, Tippet told commissioners.
And it doesn’t appear to be one coordinated effort.
“These gangs are from the South Los Angeles area and many of them are rivals from different sects, indicating that they’re not working together,” Tippet said.
LAPD has placed surveillance cameras throughout the city to try find the robbers, and served dozens of search warrants, seizing a total of 45 guns from suspects.
“This has been a major undertaking, however, I’m confident that we are slowing this trend down,” Tippet said.
Have there been arrests?
The follow-home robbery task force has so far made dozens of arrests, including four on suspicion of murder and six for attempted murder.
But in some cases, robbery suspects are released from custody, only to take part in more robberies, according to police.
In one case, a robbery suspect named Cheyenne Hale was arrested in connection with a violent armed robbery in downtown L.A. that involved a victim who was tackled to the ground before a group of men stripped him of his watch and left him lying in the gutter, according to police.
Hale is already out on bail, Tippet said.
Another suspect, Matthew Adams, was arrested on suspicion of robbery then released on bond in January. Now, he’s in custody again in connection with another seven robberies, according to police.
How to protect yourself
Tippet said a lot of the robberies are happening between midnight and 4 a.m., but there have been robberies happening in broad daylight, too.
“It’s just individuals that are willing to do brazen robberies in the middle of downtown L.A. in daylight. So you can’t even say anymore not to not to go out late at night,” Tippet said.
Moore said the brazen and arrogant nature of the crimes “shocks ones senses.”
“Be mindful of your surroundings and be mindful that today — unlike previous earlier periods in the last five or 10 years — you’re being targeted. You’re being targeted by individuals who find a ready market in the Internet to resell these goods.”
Here are some more tips from LAPD about protecting yourself from so-called follow-home robbers:
- Be careful while out with visible expensive jewelry.
- Traveling in groups and remaining in well-lit areas can help deter robbers.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to those around you.
- After shopping, make it a habit to take a different route home and pay attention to vehicles and pedestrians behind you.
- If you think you are being followed, change your route and call the police.
- If approached by a robber, especially if the person has a firearm, the department encourages victims not to resist. “No property is worth the risk of loss of life,” LAPD says.