‘Tourist burglars’ and Wi-Fi jammers mean more thefts from homes

LAPD forms a task force in response to spike in burglaries


Home burglaries in the city of Los Angeles are increasing in the early part of 2024. The situation has led police officials to form a task force focusing on “tourist burglars,” while additional concerns stem from new technology thieves are employing.


There were a total of 2,576 burglaries in the city in January and February, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data. That is a 7.3% increase over the same period last year. 


“The nuance here is commercial burglaries are down citywide 6.1%, but residential burglaries are up 4.5%,” interim LAPD Chief Dominic Choi said during last Tuesday’s meeting of the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission.


The count also represents a 19.9% spike over the total number of burglaries in January and February of 2020, the final months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Bar chart of total burglaries in the months of January and February in the city of Los Angeles over 7 years


Choi has discussed the situation during several recent Police Commission meetings. At the March 12 session, he said that a multi-agency task force has been formed in response to a wave of crimes committed by thieves, often from South America, who enter the United States on tourist visas.


“We have a significant increase in burglaries from organized groups that are outside this country, that are coming into the country and they are targeting high-end residences,” he said during that meeting. “We’re aware of this trend and we’re, I believe, approaching it appropriately.”


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Last week, there were reports that the Woodland Hills home of former NBA star Paul Pierce was burglarized, with thieves stealing more than $100,000 in cash and watches from a safe. It is unknown if foreign-born thieves were involved.


The trend of “tourist burglars” is not new, as law enforcement officials have for several years focused on rings of perpetrators from South American countries, including Chile. Last June, then-LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Police Commission about “individuals from Chile that are traveling here for the sole purpose, we believe, on tourist visas, to burglarize areas of the city, particularly areas that are upper scale, more expensive homes.”


The rings have been reported in other places. Last year the Orange County District Attorney’s office announced charges against Chilean nationals alleged to have committed burglaries in the area. In April 2023 a Cincinnati TV station reported on “Chilean burglary cells” active in the city.


Down over time

In 2023 the LAPD fielded 15,277 burglary reports. That was a 2% increase over the previous year.


As is the case with many crime categories, burglaries in the city have fluctuated over time. In 2010 there were more than 17,200 reports. Figures declined for four consecutive years, then increased again, with more than 16,600 incidents in 2017. Numbers dropped significantly during the pandemic.


Line chart of annual burglaries in the city of Los Angeles from 2011-2023


Of the burglaries in the city last year, 5,667 of them, or 37%, were of single-family homes, according to police data. Another 2,162 (14%) were in multi-unit buildings.


Dense Downtown commonly records more burglaries than other neighborhood. That was the case last year, when there were 848 reports, according to police data. However, the vast majority of burglaries in the community were in businesses, warehouses or stores.


Table of neighborhoods with most burglaries in 2023


The second-most burglarized neighborhood in 2023 was Sherman Oaks. Of the 456 reports there, 56% were in single-family homes.


Five neighborhoods last year recorded more than 200 burglaries of single-family homes. All were in the San Fernando Valley.


Table of 5 neighborhoods with most single-family home burglaries in 2023


High-tech tool

Traditionally burglars targeting residences capitalize on unlocked doors or windows, or they break a lock. Recently, a new, high-tech tool has been detected.


In early March, the LAPD’s Wilshire Division posted social media messages warning residents about teams of thieves using “Wi-Fi jammers” to break into homes.


The Wi-Fi jammers are used to interrupt the internet Wi-Fi capabilities for burglar alarms and cameras,” the division stated on a March 4 Facebook post. “These burglary suspects are known to enter via second story balconies and seek high end jewelry, purses, U.S. currency, and other fine valuables.”


At the March 5 Police Commission meeting, Choi said the devices are similar to those used to “clone” car key fobs. He said the department is searching for ways to combat the practice. 


“The immediate fix for these home alarm systems is to hardwire them,” Choi instructed, “where you plug those systems directly into ethernet in the wall and not use your Wi-Fi internally.”


Choi said it is not yet clear if tourist burglars are among those using the Wi-Fi jammers.


How we did it: We examined publicly available crime data from the Los Angeles Police Department from Jan. 1, 2010–Feb. 29, 2024. 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.


Have questions about our data or want to know more? Write to us at askus@xtown.la.