In the city of Los Angeles, approximately 13,000 burglaries were reported in 2016, and so far in 2017, the burglars have shown no sign of easing up or slowing down. Stars including such luminaries as Nicki Minaj, Emmy Rossum, and Alanis Morissette have been among the victims of a growing burglary trend known as “flocking.”

It’s called flocking because gang members “flock” to the neighborhoods where residential burglaries provide the biggest payoffs. The gang members wear button-down shirts and polished shoes while driving luxury sedans – to blend in – as they seek affluent-looking homes to burglarize.

The typical daytime burglary in the Los Angeles area is what’s called a “knock-knock” burglary. A burglar knocks on the front door of a residence, and if no one answers, the home gets burglarized. If someone answers, the burglar pretends that he or she is looking for someone, or is lost, and has merely knocked on the wrong door. By working the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, it’s inevitable that these crimes will sometimes target some of the world’s most famous singers, actors, and other celebrities.

Other recent L.A. burglary victims have included Lakers star Nick Young and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. Actress Emmy Rossum reported that $150,000 in jewelry was taken earlier this year from a safe in her home. Alanis Morissette had nearly $2 million worth of jewelry and other items taken from her Brentwood home. Nick Young’s home was burglarized for about $500,000 in jewelry and other valuables. At the end of March, no suspects had been arrested in any of these cases.

WHAT ATTRACTS THE BURGLARS?

Law enforcement officials do not believe that the celebrities are being personally targeted – rather, it’s the neighborhoods they live in that attract the gangs. Investigators do, however, believe that one gang out of South Los Angeles is responsible most of the recent knock-knock and flocking burglaries in L.A.’s upscale communities. According to Los Angeles Police Detective William Dunn, gang leaders select different gang members each morning to commit the day’s burglaries so that none of the burglars are seen twice in any specific neighborhood.

Detective Dunn says the gang members look “for homes where they think there’s a lot of jewelry inside, BMWs, Mercedes, brand-new cars in the driveway.” If no one answers the front door, another gang member breaks another door or smashes a window.

If no audible alarm sounds, they enter, and in most cases, they are out in about three minutes. Burglars who have been arrested for “flocking” have told interrogators that their “quota” is to obtain about $10,000 a day, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Michael Maher.

The gangs live on the money they steal, and they also use it for bail money for gang members who get arrested, Sgt. Maher said. The burglars typically look for residences that appear to have no security cameras, and they take mostly cash or items that are easy to sell, like weapons, or hard to trace, like jewelry.

Law enforcement officials urge those with security and alarm systems to use them. Many of the homeowners with alarm systems do not activate those systems during the daylight hours when most of the flocking and knock-knock burglaries are committed.

HOW IS BURGLARY DIFFERENT FROM ROBBERY?

What is the legal distinction between burglary and robbery? Under California law, burglary is “entering a structure with the intent to commit a theft once inside.” Actually going through with a theft or a robbery isn’t necessary for a burglary charge, and neither is forced entry.

If the state can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a suspect “entered” a “structure” with the “intent” to commit a theft or a robbery, that’s enough to convict a defendant of burglary in this state. Anyone who is charged with committing a burglary in Southern California will need the advice and services of an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.

First-degree burglary in California is the burglary of a residence. Second-degree burglary is the burglary of any structure that is not a residence, including stores and businesses, although shoplifting is not considered burglary under California law. First-degree burglary is sometimes called “residential burglary,” while second-degree burglary is often called “commercial burglary.”

First-degree burglary in California is always charged as a felony, and a conviction is punishable by up to six years in prison. Second-degree burglary may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. A conviction for felony second-degree burglary is punishable by up to three years in jail or prison, while a conviction for misdemeanor second-degree burglary is punishable by up to a year in a county jail.

Home security experts offer these recommendations for protecting yourself, your family, and your home from burglary:

  • Lock everything and turn on the alarm (if you have one) whenever you leave home.
  • Ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your home if you plan to be away overnight or longer.
  • Leave some lights or a television on.
  • Don’t announce on Facebook that you’ll be away from home.
  • Keep valuables locked up and out of sight.

WHAT ABOUT VEHICLE BURGLARIES?

Vehicle burglaries in the state of California are usually charged as second-degree burglaries. Vehicle owners throughout Southern California can protect their vehicles and help to deter vehicle burglaries by parking exclusively in areas that are well-lit, by always locking your vehicle and taking your keys with you, and by locking valuable items in the trunk and out of sight. LAPD Detective Noah Stone says, “We are very appreciative when neighbors look out for each other and notify the police when they observe suspicious activity.”

Anyone accused of burglary in Southern California should have the counsel of an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. To convict a suspect on any burglary charge, the state must prove the suspect’s guilt, but a burglary suspect could be innocent for one of several reasons.

A suspect could be misidentified or the target of a false accusation. A suspect might also have taken something by mistake, genuinely believing it was his or her own property. An experienced defense attorney will be able to determine the best legal defense for a burglary defendant in any particular case.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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