Thieves are increasingly targeting small markets

Robberies spiking at Los Angeles liquor stores, gas stations and mini-marts

illustration of discount store exterior


Thieves in Los Angeles are increasingly setting their sights on liquor stores, gas stations and mini-marts. Robberies at these locations have shot up in the first part of 2022, compared with previous years.


According to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data, from Jan.1-Feb. 28, there were 116 robberies at these businesses. That compares with 77 in the same period last year, and 89 robberies in the equivalent timeframe in both 2020 and 2019.


Bar chart comparison of small-market robberies


Overall robberies in the city rose 16% in the first two months of the year over 2021, according to LAPD Compstat data. Yet reported crimes at the small markets surged by 50.6% in that period. 


Police Chief Michel Moore has drawn attention to the spike twice in the past month. He mentioned it at meetings of the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission, most recently on March 1. 


Two weeks before, on Feb. 15, he detailed the spike and told the panel, “While the majority of robberies are still occurring outside in public spaces, such as sidewalks and parking lots, we have seen a marked increase in regards to commercial robberies at… convenience stores largely.”


The increase actually began late last year. There were 153 robberies in small markets in the fourth quarter of 2021, the highest quarterly tally since at least 2010. 


The 58 robberies in both January and February 2022 are higher than any other month going back to December 2019. 


Line chart of small-market robberies


Confronting store employees

Thieves have most frequently been targeting small markets in the neighborhood of Westlake, where there have been nine robberies in the first two months of the year. Another eight occurred in Sun Valley


Det. Michael Berretta, who investigates robberies in the LAPD Foothill Division, which covers Sun Valley, said a repeat offender is likely involved.


“We believe the same individual has committed multiple crimes at multiple locations in different times,” Berretta said. 


Beretta believes other crimes have involved drug users. 


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Foothill Division Senior Lead Officer Eric Perez said some of the incidents in the area are “estes robberies.” The term applies to a criminal who, while trying to steal merchandise, is confronted by an employee, and uses force in an attempt to get away (“Estes” refers to the defendant in a 1993 court case).


“There’s not necessarily a weapon used in the robbery,” Perez said. “Sometimes people call them beer runs, where they go in and steal six packs of beer, and try to run out.”


Yet many other robberies of liquor stores, gas stations and mini-marts hold the potential for a more troubling outcome. In the first two months of 2022, 47 incidents involved a handgun, semi-automatic pistol or other firearm, according to LAPD data. This is up from the 24 firearms involved in these incidents in the same time last year.


Robberies drew heavy attention late last year as the LAPD responded to a series of high-profile crimes. Although more guns are being used in all kinds of robberies, the number of incidents in 2021 was actually far lower than annual tallies in previous years.


How we did it: We examined publicly available crime data from the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as LAPD Compstat data. Learn more about our data here


LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.

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