On Black Friday, a man and two women walked into an upscale consignment shop on Melrose Avenue. The women started shoving pairs of shoes into their bags and walked out, alarms blaring.
In an interview, the man said that one of the alleged thieves, a young mother of two, steals and resells merchandise to pay her rent.
“That’s how people pay their rent, pay their car loans,” he said. “Going to the mall, stealing clothes, that’s how people have money.”
A series of high-profile crimes in upscale parts of Los Angeles — the so-called smash-and-grab and follow-home robbery — have gotten widespread attention in recent months. Police have deployed officers to malls and shopping corridors like Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue. Right-wing media have seized on the robberies as proof that crime in California is out of control.
Yet for all the attention they have received, the brazen crimes make up only a fraction of the city’s burglaries and robberies, which overall have not seen a significant increase.
Citywide, burglaries are down 8% and robberies up 5% over 2020. Far more serious is the dramatic rise in homicides: 389 this year, an increase of 12% from 2020 and 51% from 2019.
But the smash-and-grabs and follow-home robberies have managed to captured the city’s attention in ways the climbing murder rate could not, roiling the political discourse over crime, policing and how the judicial system punishes lawbreakers.
Largely absent from the conversation, however, are the people accused of committing the crimes. Culprits have appeared in pixelated surveillance footage as blurry, masked figures. Police news bulletins offer only vague descriptions of suspects — a race, an age, a height.
The Times identified several people arrested on suspicion of committing smash-and-grabs, follow-home robberies and similarly brazen heists in which people have simply grabbed merchandise off shelves in full view. Through interviews with police and some of the suspects and a review of court and probation records, The Times found that a wide range of people — from a group of Romani women from Orange County to crews of reputed gang members from South Los Angeles — have been implicated in the crimes.
In interviews, the suspects offered differing reasons for the theft: Some scratch out a living reselling what they steal. Others keep what they swipe for themselves.
“I mean, it’s the pandemic, so some people are just struggling,” said Daniel DeHughes, who was arrested on suspicion of stealing sledgehammers and crowbars from a Home Depot that police believed he and his friends were planning to use in a smash-and-grab in Beverly Hills. “They don’t have things, and they want things.”
DeHughes, 19, insisted he was innocent but declined to elaborate. Staff at the youth …….