Capt. Jonathan Tippet, who spearheads an LAPD "follow-home robbery" task force, told the city Police Commission during a meeting on Tuesday that at least 17 gangs, most of them based in South Los Angeles, have been independently staging robberies, sometimes using spotters to target people wearing high-end watches or driving expensive cars.
As many as five carloads of people have followed home some targets, swarming them to steal watches, handbags or cars before they have much of a chance to resist, Tippet said.
In one case, a man was arrested this month on suspicion of robbing a victim of two watches worth an estimated $600,000.
On Monday, a woman was followed by criminal suspects after she left a jewelry store in the Jewelry District of Downtown Los Angeles, police said. After stopping at an intersection, one of the suspects got out of a car and smashed the woman’s driver-side window. The woman abandoned her car and was chased by the suspects who struck her with a vehicle, held her at gunpoint and stole her watch, police said.
"We have seen countless individuals traumatized by having a gun pointed at them," Tippet said. "Many others are dealing with the trauma and injuries from being tackled, kicked, beaten, punched and are pistol-whipped to the head."
Tippet told Fox News the gangs are primarily based out of South Los Angeles, but the force has seen individuals associated with these gangs who live outside of the county.
Tippet said the robberies are being committed primarily in the downtown and Wilshire area with a significant amount in the Hollywood area.
Tippet said there were 165 such holdups last year and 56 so far this year. Thirteen victims were shot, including two people who died. Fifty robberies took place in the LAPD's Hollywood Division and nearly as many in the Wilshire Division.
Such attacks were "almost unheard of" before last year, Tippet said.
"In my 34 years in the LAPD, I have never seen this type of criminal behavior" in such large, coordinated groups, Tippet said.
The task force has made several dozen arrests for robbery, weapons crimes and attempted murder along with four arrests on suspicion of murder, Tippet said.
On Wednesday, LAPD sent out a community alert, notifying residents to be on guard to a rise in follow-home robberies.
A source with close ties to the LAPD who wished to remain anonymous blamed the spate of brazen follow-home robberies on the controversial policies of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.
"When DA Gascón said he won’t seek gang enhancements, that basically rang the dinner bell for many of these gangs," the source told Fox News. "It won’t be long before gangs from other surrounding counties such as San Bernardino and Riverside come to Los Angeles to commit their crimes. Why commit crimes in their own counties when they know they receive a lighter sentence if they get caught in LA?"
Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascón, told Fox News Digital that the DAs office is taking the follow-home robberies "very seriously."
"These robberies are disturbing and dangerous and our office takes them very seriously," Bastian said in a statement late Thursday. "We are working collaboratively with our law enforcement partners to help them make arrests and working diligently so that people that are arrested are subsequently prosecuted and held accountable."
"That is especially the case with repeat offenders," he added. "Our felony charge rates are the same as they were in years past, and we are concerned about these crimes wherever they occur in Los Angeles County. We are also proactively working with our community partners to intervene and prevent crime altogether, because we recognize that we must all work together to advance public safety."
Since taking office, Gascon has issued directives to halt bail requests, stop trying juveniles as adults, stop seeking the death penalty, and has banned prosecutors from seeking sentencing enhancements and from attending parole hearings.
The move against enhancements – which can result in harsher punishments for crimes such as using a gun – has been particularly controversial.
Los Angeles’ increase in robberies and burglaries follows statewide trends of increasing crime since the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year saw a brash of organized criminal gangs targeting high-end retail stores in smash-and-grab robberies up and down the Golden State.
Nathan Hochman, a Republican contender to unseat Rob Bonta as California Attorney General, weighed in on the home-follow robberies in Los Angeles.
"With robberies at gunpoint escalating in Los Angeles and across California, we need to stop the turnstile door of justice where suspects are arrested in the morning and back on the streets by the afternoon," he tweeted Wednesday.
The Associated Press and Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.