Five teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of assaulting and robbing Chinatown residents during a crime spree that lasted from mid-November until just before Christmas.
Eight victims, including elderly Chinese immigrants who speak little English, have come forward, authorities said. Police believe there may be more victims.
In one of the robberies, the suspects threatened the victim with a gun, said Capt. Marc Reina of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Division. In another, they brandished a sharp object.
They punched and kicked the victims and threw them to the ground, taking cellphones, purses and jewelry, Reina said.
A team of detectives was assigned to the case. On Dec. 23, plainclothes officers spotted the suspects in a car, which drove off instead of stopping. The officers pursued the car, which turned out to be stolen, from Chinatown across the 5 Freeway to South Avenue 22 and North Broadway.
The suspects — four females and one male — were arrested, police said. They are from East Los Angeles and came to Chinatown looking for victims, according to police.
One juvenile male has been charged with multiple counts of robbery. Reina said he expects charges to be brought against the other three juveniles and one 18-year-old woman.
“We’re working hard to keep the area safe for everyone, and no one should be subjected to such a violent crime,” Reina said.
There have been no similar robberies since the arrests, he added.
Some Chinatown residents do not contact police when they are victims of a crime, because they fear not being able to communicate, said George Yu, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement District.
In fact, Yu said, officers at Central Station are accustomed to Chinese-speaking callers and will transfer them to someone who can help.
Yu said he spoke to an elderly woman who was robbed of her iPhone 7, cash and cosmetics by the suspects on Dec. 22. News of the crime had spread through Chinatown’s “grandma network,” but Yu and a colleague spoke to the woman at length before she agreed to call police.
“It’s not OK to hit anybody, especially elderly females,” Yu said. “I can’t remember the last time we had a string of robberies like this in Chinatown.”