Today, 20 years after the first documented cases of Indo-Chinese, or Southeast Asian, street gangs in the United States, police officers across the country encounter second-generation gang members who are well-versed in American gang behaviors. From their inception, these gangs have been known for their orientation toward making money. One avenue for this effort has been-and continues to be-home invasion robberies.
Home invasion robberies have been committed by all types of street gangs, including Hispanic, Skinheads, African-American, prison, and out-law motorcycle groups. But Indo-Chinese street gangs have made these robberies a popular form of crime for today's gangsters.
Investigating these crimes can seem difficult if not impossible. But let's take a look at how and why these types of robberies occur and maybe the response, investigation, and follow-up will be a bit easier.
The Asian gangs that commit home invasion robberies take their "jobs" very seriously. Sgt. Marcus Franks of the Westminster (Calif.) Police Department has even found evidence that some gang members receive training on how to commit home invasion robberies from more seasoned gang members.
Indo-Chinese gangs typically study their targeted victims through surveillance and intelligence gathering missions before robbing them. Ed Yee, an Asian gang expert from the Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's Office, has investigated cases in which gang members have watched their intended victims for up to a month before committing a robbery.
According to Investigator Yee, intelligence is often collected from victims' school-age children. As gang members become familiar with the targeted household and start to recognize the children's friends, gang members offer the friends money in exchange for a drawing of the house interior. The friends of the victim don't even realize what is going on. In some cases, gang members cut out the middle man by becoming friends with the victim's children and being invited into the home themselves.
According to Investigator Yee, gang members often collect background on victims by conducting "postal or department of motor vehicle checks" through contacts they have working in those agencies. Investigator Yee notes that some gangs purposefully call police to the house they plan to target so they can check and monitor police response time and tactics before committing the robbery.
All home invasion robbers use a ruse to gain entry into a victim's home. Commonly, a very pretty female associate of the attacking gang will be used for the "door knock." The female knocks on the door and pretends to want to return an item, such as a borrowed CD, to one of the victim's children.
In a robbery in Northern California, a group of Indo-Chinese home invasion robbers used a gang member dressed like a postal worker to gain entry. There have even been a few reported cases in which the robbers passed themselves off as police or sheriff's plain-clothes investigators.
A ruse I've encountered in several investigations involves a single male or female who knocks on the door with a minor injury, such as a bloody nose, and tells the victim he or she has just been attacked and wants to call the police. When the victim allows the pretender in to use the telephone, the home invasion robbery team follows.
Once home invasion robbers gain access to the residence, they typically round up all the family members in a single room. The house is swept in a police-like fashion to account for everyone. Since the robbers have most likely studied their victim for a while, they know who is supposed to be in the home.
The robbers bind all family members' hands and feet with duct tape or electrical cords. Some gangs even use flex-cuffs, like the police.
Once inside the house, the robbers look for cash, jewelry, stereo equipment, electronic entertainment equipment, guns, passports, credit cards, and banking information. It is all about money. If they can't find what they're looking for, home invasion robbers will use torture to coerce the victims into telling them where cash and valuables are hidden.
Various tactics are used to convince victims to cooperate. Steel rods wrapped in cloth might be used to beat the victims. Sometimes robbers use knives to cut the victim's children or spouse. Holding plastic bags over children's faces, burning flesh with a hot iron, using a drill to drill a hole into a kneecap, rape, attempted murder, and murder have all been methods used by home invasion robbers. And these are just some that have been reported to police. You can see why victims are often too afraid to cooperate with the police after being threatened with these types of torture if they tell.
Unfortunately, it is estimated that only three out of 10 home invasion robberies are reported to the police. Often, this is because victims fear for their own or their family members' lives if they are caught reporting the crime. Even if these crimes are reported, the criminals can be hard to catch. One reason for this is that Indo-Chinese gangs tend to be very mobile. A gang from one end of the state might commit a home invasion robbery in another part of their state or even in a different state. Many robbers from outside of the area do not even bother to wear masks, believing they will be too hard to catch even if the victims go to the police and try to identify them.
When responding to a call of a home invasion robbery, expect multiple suspect vehicles. Often, a home invasion robbery team has a secondary vehicle with a gang member or gang associate near the victim's house. This person uses a police scanner to monitor police radio traffic.
If a call for service is made to the victim's address, the subject uses a cellular telephone, pager, or walkie-talkie to warn the gang members in the house of the pending police response. If you suspect a home invasion robbery is in progress, have a unit respond to the area somewhere near the primary location to look for this type of car.
But not all home invasion robbery teams use a secondary layoff car. In one instance, police responded to an incomplete 911 call. The police made contact at the front door with a person who reported that he lived at the house and everything was OK. In reality, the police had just made contact with one of the robbers.
In one Southern California case, the police were shot at by the robbers while approaching the house. In cases such as these, field tactics can save your life. Consider having dispatch call back to the location of a 911 call and having a responsible party come out and talk to you. However, this is easier said than done, especially due to language barriers.
Police responding to these types of calls have very quickly ended up in situations involving vehicle and foot pursuits, barricaded suspects holding hostages, shootings, and murder scenes. Sometimes officers even die.
In late June, near Houston a Harris County Deputy was gunned down while he and his partners attempted to enter a house during a home invasion robbery. There was a 911 call that a lady was being pistol whipped inside the house. In reality, five heavily armed Latin King gangsters were in the house committing a home invasion robbery.
While the officers made entry, the gang members opened fire. The officers returned fire and during the exchange they killed two gang members. But a deputy was shot in the head and hip and died on the way to the hospital. The sheriff's deputies were able to capture the three remaining suspects. The fallen deputy was an eight-year veteran and left behind a wife of four years and their 20-month-old daughter.
Responding to 911 calls any time at homes or businesses could mean the response to a home invasion robbery in progress. Think about it; be prepared for that possibility.
Al Valdez is an investigator with the Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's office and author of the book, Gangs. Investigator Ed Yee contributed to the writing of this article.