LOS ANGELES — The brazen attacks couldn't be more frightening.
You’re having dinner at a fine-dining restaurant or strolling in an upscale neighborhood, then drive home. But little do you know you’re being trailed by armed robbers. The masked assailants point pistols in your face when you pull into the driveway and demand your valuables.
It’s one of the latest robbery trends — one that’s captured attention in Southern California during the holiday shopping season. Like other trends, it's one that could potentially spread and comes on the heels of the smash-and-grab retail burglary spree that has hit several cities.
During the holiday gift-buying season, there's even more incentive for armed criminals to consider following home shoppers. But police and experts say a few simple precautions will help reduce the chances of being confronted, assaulted or killed.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore said Thursday more than 150 follow-home robberies have been reported so far this year, claiming two lives. Many victims were targeted because they wore expensive jewelry or drove luxury vehicles.
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A couple in the Los Angeles suburb of Upland were followed home by three armed suspects in two vehicles earlier this month after a night out in Hollywood.
As they pulled in their driveway, the trio jumped out, flashed their weapons and demanded their wallets, keys and other valuables, police said. One of the suspects then shocked both victims with a Taser-like device — and robbed the man of his Rolex watch valued at $18,000.
Sometimes celebrities are targeted. BET and MTV host Terrence Jenkins, who goes by Terrence J, was followed home by four men in a silver Jeep Cherokee earlier this month. One man ordered Jenkins out of his car, but he refused and drove off. The assailants followed, reportedly firing shots before Jenkins was able to flag down a California Highway Patrol officer, TMZ reported.
One of the fatal incidents involved a 23-year-old man who came to the aid of a woman being held up outside a Sunset Boulevard restaurant. He was shot and killed by assailants that police identified as fitting the follow-home profile. The shooting took place next to a luxury Mercedes-Benz G-wagon SUV, which may have belonged to one of the victims.
Tips to stay safe
Even a mom who had been walking her baby past the mansions in her Hancock Park neighborhood was accosted by two hooded and masked men in her driveway and robbed of her diaper bag, police said.
Moore, in an interview with KTLA-TV, said 36 arrests have been made involving follow-home robberies. Some arrests resulted from detectives trolling social media posts in which suspects posted photos of themselves with their loot and bragging about it.
"There’s a sense of a lack of consequences by a number of these suspects,” Moore said. “We take these instances of violence very seriously.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that robberies in the city have increased by 3.2% since 2020, but in the area of the Melrose Avenue shopping area have increased by 20%. The follow-home robberies represent an uptick in violent crime which has not been seen in the area "in decades," Moore said.
In response to those incidents and others, police formed a special task force and issued a list of recommendations to help people keep from becoming victims.
Among the recommendations are to not conspicuously wear flashy jewelry or watches, stay aware of surroundings and call 911 if there is a suspicion that one is being followed home.
And, given the death of the 23-year-old, victims should cooperate with robbers by handing them what they demand and not trying to follow them. But after the crime, they should write down as much as you can recall — descriptions of suspects and their vehicles.
Experts go even farther in their advice, but it’s not complicated.
“Just use common sense,” said George Kirkham, a criminologist and former police officer based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Be aware of your surroundings, use valet parking or park you car in a well-lighted area and don’t think carrying a pistol will stop an attack. Kirkham said he discourages people from carrying guns because they rarely have proven helpful in self-defense situations.
At home, take advantage of new, high-tech security systems and install more perimeter lighting, he said. But overall, people will be fine if keep a cool head.
“You can’t devolve into paranoia,” Kirkham said. “Just stay reasonably careful.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LA-area follow-home robberies are the scary holiday crime trend