Io Dodds, The Independent, March 17, 2022
Police in two affluent Silicon Valley suburbs have blamed a recent spate of burglaries on South American “criminal tourists” who enter the US specifically to steal goods.
Officers in Hillsborough, California, just under 20 miles south of San Francisco, claimed in a community bulletin on Sunday that residents were being targeted by sophisticated burglary gangs.
In a previous bulletin last month, they said: “Criminal tourism has become very prevalent in the United States, with many sophisticated burglary crews coming from South America…
“In comparing data and evidence collected from burglaries, it appears [such gangs] have been responsible for many of Hillsborough’s burglaries over the past year.”
The latest burglary happened around midnight between Friday and Saturday, with doorbell camera footage showing a group of men in black hoodies and jeans ferrying bags of goods to a pair of waiting cars.
On Monday, the Hillsborough Police Department released photos of one of the cars and said the men who crewed it are suspected in multiple other burglaries.
Police in nearby Atherton, not far from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, also said at the start of February that, of eight burglaries in the past month, “we suspect six were committed by organised Chilean gang members operating out of the Los Angeles area.”
Both cities have an a median household income of more than $250,000 (£198,886), according to the 2020 US census, and the vast majority of residents own their own houses.
The claims come amid a string of high-profile burglaries and robberies in the San Francisco Bay Area, many of which have been blamed on organised theft rings hailing from other states or from abroad.
In some cases, crowds of dozens of people staged smash and grab flash mobs in department stores and large warehouse-style shops, igniting controversy over California’s looser than average bail and sentencing laws.
Describing the “tourist” gangs in a February bulletin, Hillsborough police said: “Groups can range in size from a few to dozens of members. Groups often enter the United States legally.
“Once they arrive, groups will acquire vehicles by either renting or buying a slightly used luxury vehicle to easily blend into their target communities.
“Groups will then travel across the nation to different affluent communities to commit burglaries. Groups often rotate members out of the country in a matter of weeks.”
The department said that it first saw evidence of this in Hillsborough in late 2018 and 2019, and that in 2021 a known member of a South American tourist gang was identified as a suspect in three burglaries.