Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced Tuesday he is setting up a task force to apprehend follow-home robbers, saying the department has not seen violent hold-ups “like this in decades.”
The troubling trend, which has targeted celebrities and upscale restaurants in recent months, turned deadly in the predawn hours Tuesday when a man was gunned down during an attempted robbery outside Bossa Nova restaurant in Hollywood.
Moore told the city’s civilian oversight Police Commission he was creating a follow-home robbery task force of more than 20 detectives from elite investigative divisions, including Robbery-Homicide, Metropolitan and specialized gang narcotics units, to identify and stop the growing threat to public safety posed by organized groups of criminals.
The department is already investigating at least 133 such robberies from areas including the Sunset Strip, Melrose Avenue, the Jewelry District and Westside shopping areas.
In the latest incident, a man was sitting inside his vehicle, along with a female passenger near Bossa Nova. The woman stepped outside, and eight people approached her from a car and tried to rob her, police said. The man, who was described only as a 23-year-old, “was coming to the aid of a female who was being attacked” by the robbers when he was fatally shot shortly after 2 a.m., Moore said. A Police Department spokesman said the man who was shot was armed.
Robberies are increasingly turning violent, and many are occurring after a person is followed from an establishment to their car or home, the chief said. “The impact this is having on the sense of community, or safety, is profound,” Moore said.
While robberies are up 3.2% this year compared with 2020 — but down compared with 2019 — Moore said the more alarming trend is the propensity of the suspects to use firearms to get what they want. “They are willing to use deadly force for items of value,” Moore told Los Angeles Police commissioners. With more suspects being armed, he warned there is more of “the potential for matters to escalate to something that we saw this morning.
In the Wilshire Division, which includes much of the Melrose Avenue commercial strip, robberies have jumped 20% this year.
Moore also said he was stepping up patrols around high-end retailers after the Nordstrom at the Grove was the target of a smash-and-grab group of 18 to 20 people, who stole $5,000 worth of merchandise after breaking out a display window with a scooter and sledgehammer. The chief said it was the latest incident nationwide of groups targeting high-end retailers. Moore said three suspects were apprehended by officers after a pursuit to South L.A., where some of the stolen merchandise was found inside their getaway vehicle.
Those high-end outlets and restaurants are also where the follow-home robbers are surveilling their targets.
Two weeks ago, a crew of masked robbers tracked actor and former BET host Terrence Jenkins to his Sherman Oaks home and tried to block him in with an SUV, but he was able to flee in his car as shots were fired.
Also among those targeted in recent weeks was “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Dorit Kemsley. Masked robbers at her Encino mansion made off with as much as $1 million in valuables. Detectives think she was followed to her home before two men smashed their way inside.
LAPD detectives released a video of the two hooded and masked men breaking into the home shortly before 11 p.m. Oct. 27. In the video, one of the men shatters a sliding-glass window.
Once inside, LAPD investigators say, the men confronted the TV star. “Both suspects threatened to kill her as she pleaded for her life and the lives of her young children,” police said. “In fear for her safety, the victim complied with the suspects’ demands and directed them to valuables. The suspects took high-end handbags, jewelry and watches.”
LAPD Capt. Jonathan Tippet, who oversees the Robbery-Homicide Division, said investigators think multiple robbery crews are behind the crimes. Tippet said that based on initial intelligence gathered in arrests, the groups are tied to gangs in Los Angeles.
Police have identified at least six gangs involved in follow-home robberies, Tippet said. LAPD is working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in West Hollywood because that area is seeing a significant number of such robberies, he said.
Investigators compared the new spate of robberies to the trend of so-called knock-knock burglaries four years ago, in which assailants would knock on the front doors of wealthier residents and then enter if no one was home. Among the celebrity victims were former Dodger Yasiel Puig, ex-Laker Nick Young and Nicki Minaj. But they say the latest incidents are far more violent.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.