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La Jolla burglaries are tied to ‘sophisticated’ crime ring, police say

Burglars left this mess when they hit a Muirlands Drive home in La Jolla on Dec. 4.
Burglars left this mess when they hit a Muirlands Drive home in La Jolla on Dec. 4, stealing jewelry, watches, purses and other valuables.
(Courtesy photo)

San Diego Police Department says 56 residential burglaries have occurred in the past six months in La Jolla — 18 believed connected to the ring.

The San Diego Police Department says many in a string of recent burglaries in La Jolla are part of a larger organized crime ring. As a result, the department’s Northern Division says it is allocating additional resources to the area, including plainclothes officers and a detective on a task force to follow leads.

A group of residents gathered Jan. 21 in the parking lot at San Diego French American School in La Jolla to hear from police representatives and City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, to learn more about the situation and what they can do.

San Diego Police Department Capt. Scott Wahl addresses a group of La Jolla residents at a community conference Jan. 21.
San Diego Police Department Capt. Scott Wahl addresses a group of La Jolla residents, mostly from the Muirlands area, at a community conference Jan. 21.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

SDPD Capt. Scott Wahl said there have been 56 residential burglaries in La Jolla in the past six months — 18 of which are believed to be connected to the crime ring. Several of the burglaries occurred in the Muirlands neighborhood.

“Most have taken place in the November and December months. I fell out of my chair when I heard that,” Wahl said. “Part of the crime that is happening here is happening throughout San Diego County and Los Angeles.”

In San Diego County, similar burglaries have been reported in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Poway, 4S Ranch, Rancho Santa Fe, Torrey Highlands, Del Mar Mesa, Black Mountain Ranch and other areas.

In the wake of several break-ins at La Jolla businesses in the past few months, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association updated its strategic plan to add a safety and security component at its Jan. 12 meeting online.

Lt. Rick Aguilar said the burglars (usually three or four) are in their early 20s to mid-30s, wearing high-end clothing. They often case a neighborhood to learn patterns, driving high-end vehicles to blend in. In some cases, they approach a house on foot from surrounding trails and canyons. In others, a driver drops them off and waits down the street in a getaway car.

The thieves often case in the afternoons and enter a home after dark when the owners leave.

“The biggest thing to look for is a cross-body satchel bag. If you see something like that, you need to call us,” Aguilar said. “But they do their homework, they are sophisticated in their surveillance. They are … watching when you leave your home. They will go to the second floor, either with patio furniture or by scaling the wall. They are going to the second floor because, in many cases, the alarm system is not active on the second floor. They target the master bedroom, master bathroom, taking jewelry that is left out on the counters and dressers. They have gone into closets and safes.”

Wahl said the thieves strike when no one is home because they “don’t want interactions with people. They are not armed and not stealing guns if they come across them. I think they are aware of how that would elevate the status of the crime. They are sticking to just property crime and very high-dollar crimes. The value of what has been taken in homes across the county is in the millions.”

In some cases, home security cameras have been “scrambled’ using Wi-Fi-disrupting equipment that prevents certain cameras from functioning properly.

“If you have a Wi-Fi-based security system and camera system, that can be scrambled. So a hard-wired system is best,” Wahl said.

To go after the burglars, Aguilar said, “we are going to use additional patrol officers to patrol the area, undercover detectives to ride around in plain vehicles. We’re going to have officers work overtime to patrol this area. We hear you loud and clear … we want to catch these people.”

He added that “we are going to work with our partners for additional information-sharing; we are working with federal authorities, the local Sheriff’s Department and other divisions.”

Wahl vowed that “we are putting forward all of our resources to make this our top priority at Northern Division. We are dedicating extra officers, whether they are working overtime or from another area, who are going to be focusing on this issue only; they are not going to be working on other issues. So when those alarm calls go off, they can go right to them.”

Many residents at the meeting shared stories of their houses being burglarized, items stolen and lackluster response from the police. Several said that when they called police, it took hours, if not days, for an officer to arrive.

“I’m giving you everything I have,” Wahl responded. “We are not holding officers or detectives in reserve. ... I’d love to catch these guys in our area. They can catch them somewhere else, too, but I would love to catch them here.”

Aguilar previously told the La Jolla Light that residents can help protect their homes through good lighting and by notifying a neighbor when leaving on vacation so the neighbor can watch for and report anything suspicious.

“Our Retired Volunteer Services Patrol also does vacation home checks for you. So if you call in to our substation, let [us] know that you’re going on vacation and we can let our RSVPs check on your house when you … are gone,” Aguilar said. ◆