Detectives from police agencies in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are scrambling to stem a new, audacious crime wave in which hard-to-track out-of-towners are preying on vulnerable sightseers at some of the nation’s top tourist destinations.
According to The Los Angeles Times as investigators chased leads, they noticed striking similarities in the heists: The suspects were Bay Area gang members traveling in rental cars to Southern California to commit crimes against unsuspecting tourists at shopping centers, museums, and other high-traffic areas.
Scouring parking lots and garages for out-of-state license plates and scoping out windshields for bar codes indicating a rental car was their MO.
In July, a three-member crew from the Bay Area garnered headlines when they led LAPD officers on a 100-mph chase that ended at a shopping center in Sherman Oaks. The trio, police said, were committing thefts in the Mid-Wilshire area.
In the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, an Oakland gang committed 40 auto thefts in an April spree and used electric scooters to get around. Surveillance video showed one man smashing an SUV window. He then grabbed a bag and handed it to a cohort on a scooter. The stolen goods were being sold in Oakland and five people were arrested.
Gang members’ exploits are showing up on Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Suspects have exchanged phone messages bragging about the heists and being paid $1,000 for each bag of stolen electronics, jewelry and designer clothes, said Det. Douglas Oldfield of the Hollywood Division. Surveillance video routinely shows suspects lunging through smashed windows because opening the door would activate the alarm, he said.
This is further exacerbated by a major hurdle in the legal code. Prosecuting the crimes has been hampered by a loophole in state law that makes it harder to obtain a conviction for auto burglary without proof that the car doors were locked. Many tourists cannot easily return to testify.