Burglaries targeting Indians discussed at Forsyth County town hall
BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, September 21, 2023: Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman and Johns Creek Police Chief Mark Mitchell hosted a town hall on Sunday, September 17, 2023 at Lambert High School to discuss current arrests and crime trends in the community. Burglaries targeting Indian and Asian residents in the area also was the focus of the discussion.
The burglars, mostly from groups from Latin America, seem to have planned and executed these crimes using unconventional tactics to target the demographic.
“The uniqueness of this group is they’re not looking for your guns, they’re not looking for your computers, they’re not looking for your cars, they’re looking for jewelry and precious metals,” Freeman said. “Why? Because what’s the hardest thing you think for us to track? We can melt down gold, we can sell diamonds, we can do all these kinds of things.” Freeman said, adding that the burglars have picked those targets due to stereotypes that those families often have jewelry and precious metals in their homes.
Johns Creek Mayor John Bradberry also present at
the event, thanked law enforcement for hosting the meeting, adding that both
communities strive to have the best law enforcement.
“I’m all for our police getting paid every penny that you and I know that they’re worth, but we have had a little bit of an arms race in metro Atlanta in the pay for police because there has been such a drag on that profession,” he said. “So, we have collectively got to do a better job of instructing our young people and our neighbors that, ‘Hey, these folks are allies and an attack on them, is an attack on all of us.’”
How they operate:
Hailing from South America, primarily Colombia, Peru, a few other South American, Central American countries, Freeman said they travel to the United States, often on passports not belonging to them. While passports are official from other countries, the information, he noted, often belongs to someone other than the suspects.
Their modus of operation, Freeman said, involved groups of three to five, who fly into Miami on tourist visas with fraudulent passports and target homes there before traveling north to Atlanta. He noted that the criminals have also targeted people in other areas, including Washington , Texas, Colorado, and Maryland.
“These guys are traveling from South America, paying for airline tickets and everything else…They’re being funded to do this. They have local people who are helping them, and we’re tracking those individuals to the best of our abilities,” Freeman said.
The suspects, he said, usually hit homes between noon and 10 p.m., with burglars often entering through second floors since those doors and windows are less likely to be locked or alarmed. The criminals, he added, appear to use surveillance on the homeowners, including searching social media pages to check if homeowners are out of town.
Freeman cited a recent example of a burglary that
happened at 8:53 pm, a timeframe you normally expect families to be home. But, he
noted, the burglars had done their homework. The homeowner in this case
happened to have been in India for a couple of months.
Home Invasion, Freeman said was not their intention, adding that these criminals target empty homes and are usually out within ten minutes.
The theory seems to hold true, as victims of burglaries told to NRI Pulse. Both victims chose to remain anonymous.
“The burglary took place in April 2017. They broke in through the kitchen door after scaling the deck and breaking the glass. They stole mostly our gold and silver ornaments. They ransacked the house looking for gold! We were at work and were alerted by our security company. By the time the police arrived, they had already left. Some of the lost jewelry was of sentimental value. The trauma lasted for a very long time. Both of us felt very violated! Since then, we reinforced our security and surveillance systems. Our case is still not resolved,” a resident of Riverbrooke Subdivision in Forsyth County, told NRI Pulse.
A Roswell resident said their home was burglarized precisely between 4- 4:30 pm. As it turned out, the family had just returned from a vacation only to find out they were burglarized with the doors left open. The neighbors had not heard anything.
Law Enforcement Action
Freeman spoke about South American Theft Groups (SATG) identified by Forsyth County, stating that Forsyth investigators worked to assist multiple local and out of state agencies with pursuing SATG, including Homeland Security, FBI, ATF, ICE, and DEA. He added that they held regular meetings with surrounding jurisdictions and reviewed data received through various organizations.
Freeman highlighted several arrests made in the cases, including the arrest of three men in connection to an international theft ring that has targeted area stores and homes. The trio, 39-year-old Maykel Olides Hernandez, 33-year-old Giorge Navea and 31-year-old Javier Guerra-Morales were arrested in separate locations earlier this month in Florida and Texas. The group, he said are part of a South American Theft Group that were behind the December 30, 2022 robbery attempt through the roof of Simon D. Jewelers along Peachtree Parkway in Suwanee.
They are also suspects in other robbery attempts in Knoxville, Tennessee as well as in Canton, Marietta and Alpharetta, Georgia.
In 2020, four suspects were arrested and charged with burglary in the first degree, criminal attempt to commit burglary, loitering and prowling and possession of burglary tools after being spotted in the Settles Walk neighborhood.
Speaking about police response, both officers said that patrol and specialized units directed to respond also include utilization of K-9 to track direction and location of potential drop off/pick up, Flock/LPR (License Plate Reader) review and archives, and router interrogation.
Even as Freeman spoke about burglaries and arrests, he said one of the reasons for the Town Hall was to address rumors about how often the crimes are happening.
Freeman said someone sent him a social media post that there have been 400 burglaries in the past three years. “There haven’t been 400 burglaries in all of Forsyth County in the past three years….There is a lot of misinformation about what is going on…There’s a lot of misinformation on how many.”
Per FCSO’s latest annual report, 69 burglaries targeting Indian or Asian homes have been reported in the last five years; 16 in 2019, 17 in 2020, nine in 2021, 13 in 2022 and 11 so far this year.
In all of Forsyth County, there were 101 burglaries in 2022, down from 171 in 2021, 160 in 2020 and 180 in 2019.
Freeman said despite some claims that the sheriff’s office was not taking the crimes seriously, FCSO increased the number of officers on patrol when they had intel that suspects were targeting the community.
Mitchell noted that Johns Creek residents are seeing similar issues. The same FCSO reports 3,041 burglaries in Cobb and 2,776 burglaries in Fulton in 2022.
Freeman observed that criminals are landing in the United States on tourist visas and not through the southern border. He said local authorities work with national partners to ensure that anyone who is convicted of the charges will serve time in the U.S.
“In every one of these cases, we have worked with Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so if they are sentenced and convicted in a court of law in the United States, they will serve their time, then they will be deported back to their own country,” he said.
What can residents do?
- See something, Say something.
“Some of the biggest investigations in the United States have come from small little tips or a hunch or that little hair standing up on the back of a citizen’s neck, so they call the police thinking it may not be something but turns out to be something,” Mitchell said, requesting residents in both communities to call authorities if they see anything suspicious.
Johns Creek Tipline
- Share Information with Law Enforcement
One of the strategies the sheriff’s office employed, Freeman said, was using plate readers and cameras from homes, businesses and HOAs, which must opt to have information sent to law enforcement, which can be used for tracking and catching criminals. While he understood reservations about tracking, Freeman noted, “Understand all across metro Atlanta, every day you travel, you’re traveling through a number of license plate readers and recorded traffic cameras.”
“I get the ‘Big Brother’ stuff, and I get what we should be doing and what we should not be doing…So, you have my assurance that that exists today, it will continue to exist tomorrow as we grow our real-time crime center philosophy.” Freeman said.
Addressing privacy concerns, Freeman noted that plate readers don’t display personal info unless there is a warrant for arrest/being on a sex offender/or terrorist watch list. But, he said, using an example of an unknown vehicle being reported by a neighbor, the technology would allow officers to look at cameras to find the vehicle and run the license plate once it is found. Freeman stressed that any employee using those services for anything other than investigating a crime would be fired and that employees must enter a criminal case number to have access.
- Consider Options
Freeman advised considering securing any significant assets of jewelry or precious metals in Bank deposit boxes.
- Safety Tips
- Install cameras such as RING, ARLO, OR BLINK, and be vigilant in looking immediately at alarms.
- Coordinate with neighbors and FCSO to establish Neighborhood Watch programs. Reach out to FCSO’s Community Relations Unit at SOCommRelations@Forsythco.com to schedule a visit by FCSO
- Ask neighbors to report any suspicious activity. (especially when on vacation)
- Ask FCSO to conduct vacation checks on your home if leaving for more than 5 days. Ensure doors and windows are secured and personal cameras have data backups. Freeman also noted that postings on social media during the vacation about their stay can tip offenders about the empty house, making them a potential target.