Armed Bandits Hitting Home Safes, Police Say

Times Staff Writer

Authorities are investigating a string of robberies of affluent San Fernando Valley homes in which the thieves apparently case the homes during the day and then return at night and force residents at gunpoint to open their safes and hand over valuables.

Since mid-April, at least eight homes in Encino and Tarzana in which residents keep small safes have been robbed of more than $500,000, Los Angeles police said.

In each of the crimes, at least two masked men broke into the homes between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. when residents were present, investigators said. They added that three of the robberies have occurred since Saturday.

Suspect in Mind

Although no arrests have been made, police do have a suspect in mind. They would not identify the man, but said it appeared that he had sold stolen jewelry to a San Fernando Valley pawn shop.

No victims have been seriously injured, but several have been shoved or hit, police said.

"The one common thing is that everyone had a safe and the suspects apparently knew it beforehand," Detective Bob Johansen said.

In one robbery, a baby-sitter watching two children did not know the combination to the home's safe, so one thief held the three at gunpoint while the other made off with the 300-pound safe, police said.

The owners of a house in Tarzana told police that in the week before they were robbed, they discovered an open window in the house but did not think much of it, because nothing was stolen.

Residents of a home in Encino came home to find the premises ransacked. A short time later, two masked gunmen entered through a back door and ordered them to open the safe, police said.

Three Had Alarms

Three of the homes were equipped with alarm systems, but they failed to go off when the robbers broke in, officers said. In one case, the alarm did go off, but did not frighten off the intruders.

"People have been reading in bed, watching television in the evening after work when these guys break in," Johansen said. "People feel that if they have a safe, their belongings are as safe as they can get. The thing I suggest is that if items are of great value, it might be better to keep them in a bank."

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