Residents Fight Back as Knock-knock Burglars Terrorize San Fernando Valley

The quiet, the calm, the peace that the San Fernando Valley once brought to those who live here has been shaken over the last year - particularly over the last few months - as Los Angeles Police Department detectives say they've seen a spike of more than 30 percent in residential and commercial burglaries in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.

"It's an emotional topic, it's difficult to talk about because we're all feeling violated," said Neila Ruben Lee, a Sherman Oaks resident who recalls finding herself a victim of a burglary in January.

"The door was open and then I noticed a gate was propped open in the backyard," she said. "And then I noticed out front someone had pried open our iron fence just enough so they could get out."

Another neighbor who asked not to be identified lives off Valley Vista and says she's frustrated with how her neighborhood appears to be changing.

"You move out to a nice neighborhood to get away from the crime and the crime follows you," she said. "I think the reason why people are coming into the nicer neighborhoods is because we're a little more laxed about leaving stuff out and they know we're at work all day."

LAPD's Knock-Knock Task Force has been working non-stop on cases that come in almost daily: residents who come home to find they've been burglarized and neighbors calling in tips when they see things suspicious.

Police admit the suspects have more to gain than they do to lose, often getting away with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, jewelry and electronics.

"And you're looking at 120 days in jail and maybe three years of probation if we're lucky enough to get on some of them," Task Force Coordinator Det. Armando Monarrez said. "Right now what you're seeing is Encino, Tarzana -- south of the 101 Freeway -- then moving into Sherman Oaks as well. That's the Van Nuys area. On the Devonshire area north of the 118 Freeway, north of Rinaldi, we see a lot of residential burglaries."

For some neighbors though, they don't need stats to state the obvious.

"It seems like it's hitting every few houses and they're cleaning out the neighborhood," Lee said.

While many residents have added surveillance cameras to their home and video doorbell systems, it's not always a catch-all. One homeowner who allowed NBC4 to use his Ring doorbell video says even his alarm system didn't deter the two burgalrs who he says broke in through a back window and ransacked the bedroom while the alarm was going off.

"They want easy access," Monarrez said. "They get in and out within a matter of minutes before police arrive and they get caught."

That's not a surprise for Lee.

"They don't care if they set off an alarm," she said. "They don't care if you have a camera. Because they get in and out so fast, they know what they're looking for."

LAPD is again warning residents and asking neighbors to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. At the same time, neighbors themselves are using apps like "Nextdoor" and a Facebook page called "SFV Door Knockers" to share social media video and images of suspicious people.

"If we don't talk to our neighbors and start looking out for people, it's never gonna get better," one resident said.

LAPD suggested five tips for homeowners:

  1. Neighborhood communication - social media posts of pictures and video of anything that looks suspicious
  2. Install video cameras to monitor all four sides of your home
  3. Doorbell video cameras connected to Wi-Fi
  4. Use window coverings so potential thieves can't peer inside
  5. Get a dog - they may hear someone before you do and the sound of a dog could deter potential thieves

LAPD adds that no one should attempt to approach a burglary in progress. They say often times the criminals could be armed and that they've noticed an influx of people who belong to South LA gangs, but also gangs from Riverside and as far away as Oakland coming to the San Fernando Valley to pillage.

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