And -- for the first time publicly -- the sheriffs linked the crimes to organized street gangs: the Altadena Denver Lanes Bloods and the Pasadena Denver Lanes Bloods.
The Denver Lanes are one of the largest Blood gangs in Southern California, according to LA County Sheriff's Detective Richard Pippin, who described them as "a small army."
"They are a violent criminal street gang, and they are a problem," said Pippin, who said there have already been more residential burglaries in Altadena this year than all of 2008.
The usual pattern of the burglaries is two gang members going door to door, looking for uninhabited houses. If someone answers the door, they will have a story, like asking for someone who isn't there or claiming to be looking for a lost pet. If nobody answers, one will go into the back yard to break in undetected and let their partner in to grab what they can and leave, all in about two or three minutes. Such teams, which can number up to four members, will also have backpacks to cart the loot away. A getaway car is usually nearby.
(Pictured: Det. Richard Pippin speaks to a full house at Webster Wed. night. Photo by Bill Westphal)The crooks are becoming more sophisticated, Pippin said, sometimes carrying clipboards to throw off suspicion as they go door to door, or carrying a "lost pet" poster they've ripped from a pole in the neighborhood. Sometimes they'll say they're selling magazines, or ask "Is John there?" or some other name if someone answers the door.
They also take care not to dress in gang attire, Pippin said. A cellphone confiscated from a suspect arrested last week had the text message, "Bring a flathead screwdriver and don't wear red." The suspect was part of a two-man team, one of whom was witnessed using a screwdriver to try and pry open a window.
Another dodge is to pose as workers, such as tree trimmers or gardeners. One will accompany the owner into the back yard to come up with an "estimate," while his confederates will come in the front door and loot the house.
There have also been cases of vans or trucks backing up to houses to allow the crooks to remove as much as they can from empty homes.
Besides the rash of burglaries, which usually occur in the daytime, there has also been an increase in thefts from vehicles, which usually occur at night, Pippin said. Thieves will systematically open car doors along the street, looking for unlocked vehicles. They will also break into cars if they see something valuable lying in the open, such as cameras, iPods, or GPS devices, Pippen said. To drive home the danger, Pippin told the crowd that 27 cars in the school's parking lot, belonging to people attending the meeting, had items out in the open that could make them targets.
Pippin also had some advice to help fight back:
- There is nothing more effective than knowing your neighbors.
- If someone knocks on the door, "don't play possum" -- you don't have to answer the door, Pippin said, but make them know someone's in the house.
- Record the serial numbers of your valuables, and keep a printed copy in a safe place (a record of serial numbers on your laptop won't help if the laptop's stolen).
- Take pictures of valuables, particularly jewelry
- In case of anything suspicious, call 911 (on land line) or the sheriff's station (on cell phone), 626-798-1131.
- When describing a suspect, try to remember things he' can't change (such as height, weight, tattoos, etc.) rather than clothing, which can be changed or thrown away.