More than a dozen LA gangs are targeting some of the city’s wealthiest residents in new and aggressive ways, dispatching crews in multiple cars to find, track and rob people driving high-end vehicles or carrying expensive jewelry, according to police.
In many cases, they get away with designer handbags, diamond-encrusted watches and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars – if not more – and then sell them to black market buyers who are prepared to turn a blind eye to the underlying violence, police said.
In some cases, suspects were arrested and later released, according to police, to commit further thefts.
These are among the findings of a Los Angeles Police Department task force convened late last year to identify the cause of a sudden increase in ‘tracked-home’ or ‘tracked-home’ thefts, as well called because the victims are robbed soon after. leaving luxury boutiques and hotels, fancy restaurants, trendy nightclubs and other places where gangs seek out targets.
According to Capt. Jonathan Tippet, who leads the task force, police have identified at least 17 gangs, most based in South Los Angeles and operating independently, who are involved. There have been 165 such flights in 2021 and 56 so far this year, he said, including several over the weekend.
The area with the most robberies during this time was the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, with 50, followed by 46 in the Wilshire Division and 40 in the Central Division, which includes downtown. The Pacific Division had 17, West LA 15, North Hollywood 14 and Topanga 11.
Tippet did not specify how many robberies police attributed to which gangs, but said individuals allegedly affiliated with the Bloods and Crips were identified among the culprits. The suspects identified by police have pleaded not guilty and their cases are ongoing. The task force is still working to build cases against other suspects.
Through surveillance video and other evidence, police identified crews driving three to five cars deep into some of the attacks, Tippet said, with gang members jumping out and blinding victims.
“There is not even any chance or opportunity for these victims to comply. They just run up to people and attack them, whether it’s putting a gun to their face or punching and punching them,” Tippet said. “Pistol whipping them too.”
In some cases, police determined that gang members inside high-end venues acted as “spotters” for those outside, Tippet said, alerting them when wealthy targets headed for the exit.
Shots were fired in 23 cases and two victims were killed, said Tippet, who also heads the LAPD’s Robbery and Homicide Division, which investigates high-profile crimes.
“In my 34 years of work, I have never seen anything like it,” he said.
The trend, in a city known for its affluence as well as extreme poverty, comes at a time when crime as a whole is under a microscope – with homicides, shootings and armed robberies all at high levels since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and candidates in the city’s ongoing mayoral race are decrying those increases as they vie for voters and wealthy donors.
The intense focus has also caused some consternation among criminal justice reform activists and advocates, who fear that wealthy residents with political influence and politicians eager to please them are using the trend – based in part on assessments heavy and sometimes false policing of gang involvement – to claw back past policing reforms.
Prominent activist Hamid Khan on Tuesday accused the LAPD of “week after week of sensationalism” about crime in the city, suggesting police were blowing crime trends out of proportion to maintain their grip on the city budget.
“The LAPD has to constantly legitimize itself, has to constantly make itself useful to the community, waving this specter of people going wild,” Khan said.
Police said their intention was simply to draw attention to – and stop – a serious and potentially deadly increase in armed robbery.
Yet much of the growing violence has not affected the wealthy, but the city’s most vulnerable populations, such as those homeless or living in poor communities, and receives little attention.
The ensuing robberies began to attract attention towards the end of last year, when the number of incidents increased dramatically and celebrities began to be victimized, including the actor and former BET host Terrence Jenkins and ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ star Dorit Kemsley.
In a four-week period from September to October, there were 45 follow-up robberies. In November, there were 39 more, Tippet said.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore announced the formation of the task force that month. Tippet updated the Civilian Police Commission on Tuesday on the task force’s work since then.
He said the task force made 24 robbery arrests with 47 robberies, as well as 16 firearms arrests and six attempted murder arrests. He also arrested four people for murder in the two homicides he investigated, he said.
Along the way, the task force served 278 search warrants, Tippet said, of which nearly 200 were to search for digital media or other technology, 35 for homes and 20 for vehicles.
In an interview with The Times, Tippet said the task force’s efforts had made a substantial difference, reducing the number of incidents to just 10 in March.
However, thefts have resumed in recent weeks, and the trend remains a major concern, he said, in part because those same suspects continue to be released from prison and reoffend while awaiting trial.
“I’m absolutely frustrated,” he said.
Similar frustration was shared last week by Moore, when he took the unusual step of informing the Police Commission of the alleged actions of one such suspect: 18-year-old Matthew Adams.
Adams, according to Moore, was involved in eight separate follow-up robberies over a six-month period starting last fall, including one in which two UCLA students had two watches stolen from a worth nearly $145,000 after leaving a club, a second in which two of the foreign tourists had watches worth $73,000 stolen, and a third in which $51,000 worth of goods were stolen.
During the eight robberies, which took place between September and February, Adams was arrested three times. The first time was on Jan. 9, when Moore said Adams was found in a car that had been used in one of the robberies and where a gun was also found. Online court records show no charges were ever filed against Adams in the case, suggesting prosecutors weren’t confident they could secure a conviction.
Adams was arrested again on January 27 and a third time on February 21 and, in both cases, charged with unlawful possession of firearms. Court records show he was released each time without posting bail. The reason was a pandemic-related rule, aimed at reducing the prison population, which requires LA County defendants to be released without posting bail for certain offenses.
Adams, who could not be reached for comment, has since been arrested a fourth time on charges relating to seven robberies, to which he has pleaded not guilty. The Public Defender’s Office, which represented him during his arraignment, declined to comment on the case. He remains in custody, according to court records.
Moore said Adams’ prior and repeated releases put public safety at risk and those repeatedly arrested for gun crimes should not be released until trial. He also suggested that prosecutors played a role in not seeking certain improvements to those brought against Adams that could have kept him in prison.
Moore said he was “disappointed” that the “full weight of our existing laws” had not been imposed on Adams – not only to hold him accountable, but to deter other would-be thieves who might think such crimes go unpunished. to the
Asked about Moore’s claims, a spokesperson for LA County Dist. Atti. George Gascón’s office said Adams was not legally eligible for firearms enhancements for the two possession charges.
Gascón’s office filed gun upgrades in the latest case against Adams, the spokesperson said.
In a separate case, a man named Cheyenne Hale, 25, was arrested this month on suspicion of involvement in the armed robbery of a man in downtown Los Angeles in October, during which two watches estimated at approximately $600,000 were stolen.
Police said they recovered a loaded gun from Hale during his arrest and detectives from Tippet’s unit later found seven additional handguns, $21,000 in cash and “a large amount of drugs,” including cocaine and methamphetamine, when they served a search warrant on Hale’s home.
Nonetheless, Hale – who could not be reached for comment – has since been released, according to court records.
Following Moore’s presentation last week, Police Board Chairman William Briggs said the bail of individuals allegedly involved in robbery at gunpoint represented a failure of the system of criminal justice.
“This revolving door criminal justice system that we currently have is clearly not working and is putting the citizens of Los Angeles at risk and creating a public safety crisis,” Briggs said. “We must find a solution.”
Following Tippet’s presentation on Tuesday, which included videos of two recent robberies, Briggs said the footage showed an “outrageous display of arrogance on the part of these criminals, to think they can just run wild in our town and terrorize our citizens”.
Other commissioners seemed reluctant to focus too much on the trend, or too intently on Adams or any other individual defendant, especially before they had had their day in court.
Last week, Commissioner Dale Bonner said discussions of individual “career criminals” had been misused by politicians to stoke fear in the community and advance questionable criminal justice initiatives in the past, and that the current discussion should not fail to recognize this.
Tippet said his task force will continue to investigate these crimes and that he hopes his work will encourage those involved in such thefts to stop doing what they are doing.
He also said the people buying the watches, handbags and other goods stolen in such thefts should also stop what they are doing – as the task force is prosecuting them and in several open investigations.
“They also participate” in the crime, Tippet said.