Since the fall, the so-called knock-knock burglars have targeted affluent neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley, the Westside, the Hollywood Hills and Glendale, committing dozens of breaks-ins, authorities said Thursday.
The six burglary crews identified so far consist of gang members with lengthy criminal records, authorities say. The thieves drive into wealthy communities and target those houses whose owners appear to be away. They knock on the door or ring the bell, and if no one answers, they break in, police said.
"Once they are inside, they are taking gold, jewelry, anything of value — firearms when they see them. They are converting that quickly into cash," said LAPD Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas. "They are commuter burglars prowling specific areas."
During a news conference Thursday, investigators said a task force made up of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Glendale Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department had arrested 22 suspects, including two nabbed earlier in the day by Glendale police after a burglary.
Since Thanksgiving, the burglars have hit Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Encino, Woodland Hills, Pacific Palisades, Bel-Air and Brentwood, often during daylight hours. They have occasionally targeted multiple homes on adjacent streets.
The task force has stationed undercover surveillance officers in potential target neighborhoods. "We know what areas they are going to," said Villegas, speaking at the LAPD's Valley Bureau headquarters. "And we will be waiting for them."
LAPD Lt. Alan Hamilton, who is overseeing the task force, said the burglary crews are associated with South Los Angeles, Inglewood and Pasadena gangs, and they sometimes team up with traditional rivals.
"In some cases we've had Crips working with Bloods," Hamilton said. "The only color they really care about is green, as in money."
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents many of the San Fernando Valley residents who have been victimized, said police are working hard to stop the burglaries. But he added that homeowners must take security measures of their own, including leaving lights and radios on while they are out.
Ultimately, Englander said, residents are the eyes and ears of the police.
"If it looks suspicious, you need to report it," he said.