Club and bar patrons are being targeted by robbers on downtown L.A. streets, police say. Robberies are up nearly 10 percent compared with this time in February, and they've increased 18.5 percent since 2015, according to Los Angeles Police Department data.
LAPD officials are warning revelers and downtown residents to be on guard. The advice comes after Hollywood experienced its own increase in nightlife crime late last year. "If you're coming from a club, walk with a friend," says Capt. Scott Harrelson of LAPD's Central Division, which covers downtown.
Harrelson says robbers, often working in pairs, use bodily force to take cellphones, purses and wallets. Sometimes one will distract a victim with a "pocket check" to see what's in a pocket while the other circles back for a snatching. "There's an intimidation factor present," Harrelson says. "In some instances the suspect will grab or punch the person."
At downtown restaurant/bar Escondite near Skid Row, manager Victoria Gronek says she has seen an increase in "less than savory" people in the area. She says her car was broken into two months ago when the establishment's secure parking was compromised by a drunk driver. She advises customers and women she works with to be on the lookout for robbers.
"I never get out of my car talking on the phone," Gronek says. "I've always carried purses I can strap across my body."
Security video obtained by ABC Eyewitness News shows a street robbery that starts with a pocket check and ends with the victim being knocked unconscious, dragged down the sidewalk and searched by the original suspect and an accomplice.
While the robberies have been taking place at all hours, from the Arts District to the Old Bank District, from L.A. Live to Chinatown, Harrelson says nightlife denizens are especially vulnerable as they walk after dark with their faces buried in smartphones.
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"They target people walking with your phone in your hand — they'll run by and grab the phone," Harrelson says. "They like the phones because it's easy money. They're easy to sell."
Purses and bags are just as vulnerable to theft, especially when they're in hand or draped over the shoulder, he says. He offered this advice:
"Keep cellphones put away. Don't walk around with your head in your phone at night. Wear purses cross-shoulder if possible. Just having one in your hand makes it an easy target. We're really just looking for people to be aware of surroundings."