LOS ANGELES — A surge of thefts from vehicles parked at tourist locations on the west side of Los Angeles has been linked to San Francisco Bay Area gang members, authorities say.
The Los Angeles and Beverly Hills police departments and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are trying to stem the outbreak that began last year, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
“It was our No. 1 crime trend in West Bureau in 2019,” LAPD Cmdr. Cory Palka told the newspaper.
The Bay Area thieves use rental cars to travel several hundred miles to Southern California, where they target tourists’ cars at shopping centers, museums and similar spots.
The burglary crews primarily come from San Francisco, Oakland and Contra Costa County cities including Antioch and Pittsburg.
Their move south follows an extensive theft problem in the Bay Area that led residents and businesses there to increase security, said Lt. Matt Stonebraker of the police department in Richmond, northeast of San Francisco.
A Loophole in State Law Makes It Difficult to Obtain a Conviction
“This has also caused them to hit the road to locations where they can have anonymity in other jurisdictions,” Stonebraker said.
Detective Brent Hopkins of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division calls it “tourist suspects targeting tourist victims.”
The division covers an area with very popular upscale shopping centers, museums and the famous Original Farmers market. It recorded 1,968 car burglaries in 2019, an increase of 29% from 2018 and 37% from 2017.
Hopkins attributed much of the jump to Bay Area gangs.
Police can urge people to not leave valuables in cars but that may not be an option for some tourists, and they may not be able to easily return for prosecution of the crimes. Additionally, a loophole in state law makes it difficult to obtain a conviction unless there’s proof a car’s doors were locked.
“It makes me angry that these innocent people are being targeted,” Hopkins said. “It really puts a black eye on our area.”
More than 2,000 thefts from vehicles were recorded last year by the sheriff’s station in West Hollywood, said Capt. Ed Ramirez, the commanding officer. Areas hit by those thieves included the Sunset Strip.
Beverly Hills police are doing some traveling of their own in pursuit of the thieves.
“By living up there, they feel this is a safe business model to follow,” said Lt. Scott Dowling. “We will go after you if you leave a cookie to follow. This is a quality-of-life issue for us. It’s quite a burden.”