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Recommended: Rise in Watch Theft in Focus at the Los Angeles Times
What's behind the disturbing trend?
The Los Angeles Times has been busy reporting on the trend of stealing luxury goods — including watches — from the city’s wealthy. Last week, the Times ran an article, “17 L.A. gangs have sent out crews to follow and rob city’s wealthiest, LAPD says,” covering the trend:
More than a dozen Los Angeles gangs are targeting some of the city’s wealthiest residents in a new and aggressive manner, sending out crews in multiple cars to find, follow and rob people driving high-end vehicles or wearing expensive jewelry, according to police.
In many cases, they’re making off with designer handbags, diamond-studded watches and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars — if not more — and then peddling them to black-market buyers who are willing to turn a blind eye to the underlying violence, police said.
The article included a number of recent crimes involving these gang members stealing expensive watches from wealthy residents or tourists:
[One suspect], according to Moore, was involved in eight separate follow-off robberies over a sixth-month period starting last fall, including one in which two UCLA students were robbed of two watches worth nearly $145,000 after leaving a club, a second in which two foreign tourists were robbed of watches worth $73,000, and a third in which $51,000 in property was stolen.
The article is careful to point out that the rise in “follow-off” robberies — following a victim after they leave a ritzy boutique, restaurant or nightclub — represent only a small portion of the increased crime in the city:
Still, much of the increasing violence has affected not the wealthy, but the city’s more vulnerable populations, such as people who are homeless or live in poor communities, and receives little notice.
It concludes by mentioning that those who buy stolen items — including, no doubt, some shady black market watch dealers — are complicit in the crimes:
[LAPD Capt. Jonathan Tippet] also said that people who are buying the watches, handbags and other goods being stolen during such robberies should also stop what they’re doing — because the task force is coming after them as well as part of multiple open investigations.
“They are participating” in the crime, too, Tippet said.
According to the L.A. Times, the story went viral, so it ran a follow-up op-ed trying to explain the phenomenon and the nerve it struck with readers:
“As it did for many readers, the story generated a swell of feelings in me: horror at the violence inflicted, concern about the city’s growing class divide, and shock that so many brazen attacks could take place in broad daylight on busy streets.
But the story also piqued my curiosity. What makes a watch worth more than I paid for the house I’ve lived in the last 30 years? Who are these people walking around with the equivalent of $300,000 strapped to their wrists?”
The op-ed continues:
“High-end watches today are no longer the fussy, sober, ostentatiously complicated styles that previous generations venerated. ‘They are beautiful watches,’ The Times’ resident watch expert, Daniel Miller, told me. ‘Sleek and stylish with integrated bracelets ... evocative of a kind of ‘70s cool.... It’s part of the uniform of the new wealthy class.’
And that, I suspect, is what’s making watch owners targets. But we ought not blame the victims, or suggest that people need to hide signs of their wealth. Anyone should have the right to walk around this city without having their watch stolen — whether it’s a Timex or a Rolex.”
This isn’t a trend limited to Los Angeles — we’ve heard similar stories out of London, New York, and Paris (where a task force was even created to address the issue) too.
It’s a trend that’s caught international attention. The Vanity Fair article we recommended here last week relayed the story of a high-profile watch theft in Beverly Hills in March when a man was robbed of his Richard Mille RM 11-03 at gunpoint.
Here are the links to the Los Angeles Times articles:
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