LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles police are warning people that wearing expensive jewelry in public could make them a target for thieves — a note of caution as robberies are up citywide.
The police department's suggestion Tuesday came as robbers smashed the front window of a Beverly Hills jewelry store in broad daylight and fled with millions of dollars' worth of merchandise.
Passersby recorded video of Tuesday’s robbery, the latest in a long string of brazen smash-and-grab thefts and robberies of people wearing expensive watches or jewelry in the Los Angeles region.
In the city of LA, robberies are up 18% year-to-date compared to 2021. Robberies with a firearm are up 44% in the same time period across the city.
“Over the last year there has been a marked increase of armed robberies involving victims wearing expensive jewelry while in public. If it is visible, it can be a target,” an LAPD statement said.
Wes Bunker, 30, from Dallas, waited for friends Wednesday in Hollywood's Melrose shopping district amid boutiques and vintage stores. He'd been in the city for two days but hadn't heard of the LAPD's warning.
“Seems safe here so far,” he told The Associated Press, wearing a gold chain around his neck.
Bunker said because he's from a major city, he won't take any extra precautions walking around LA during the day. But he said he might think twice at night.
"Like at the club, you’ve got to keep your eyes out,” he said.
In November, detectives from the police department's elite Robbery-Homicide Division formed a Follow-Home Task Force to investigate crimes where people are targeted by criminals and tailed home or to an isolated area. People were often followed from areas such as Melrose Avenue and the city's jewelry district, as well as high-end restaurants and nightclubs in Hollywood and Wilshire.
“The victims were being targeted based on the high-end jewelry they were wearing or the high-end car they were driving,” police said in a statement in November announcing the task force's creation.
Brenda Nolan, 70, has lived her whole life in Los Angeles. On Wednesday in the Melrose area — wearing a gold ring, silver earrings and several necklaces — she said she had seen the video of the Beverly Hills smash-and-grab on TV but doesn't feel the need to take off or hide her jewelry in public.
"I can defend myself, even today at my age,” she said, noting she's taken karate and that she has good instincts from a lifetime in the city and stays aware of her surroundings.
In Culver City, police last week announced the arrests in connection with separate robberies — including one where the victims were targeted and followed home — earlier this month.
In one case, the armed thieves allegedly stole more than $3,600 worth of jewelry from a man at a mall parking garage. In the other incident, one victim was pistol-whipped and the other had their Rolex and phone stolen at gunpoint during a follow-home robbery.
On Tuesday, masked robbers used sledgehammers to break the window of Luxury Jewels of Beverly Hills, making off with $3 million to $5 million in merchandise before fleeing.
Owner Peter Sedghi said he was in his back office when he heard what sounded like gunshots.
"I yelled at my staff, ‘Everyone get on the floor, get on the floor,’” he told AP.
Sedghi said he hit the panic alarm, grabbed his gun and ran toward the front of the store but the thieves were already fleeing. The robbers arrived in a stolen car and abandoned it, leaving in another vehicle, police said.
"We’re in the heart of Beverly Hills. Who thought this would happen in broad daylight?” he said Wednesday as his staff continued to inventory what had been stolen.
In the wake of high-profile robberies in the region — where people have been targeted for pieces such as Rolex watches and gold chains — Sedghi said some of his customers are afraid to wear their jewelry in public and are only donning it for events such as weddings and galas.
“Beverly Hills is supposed to be a safe area, you should be able to walk around wearing whatever jewelry you want,” he said.
A Beverly Hills police statement said extra security patrols and other measures were immediately taken. Residents were urged to be alert and aware of their surroundings.
“The choice to wear expensive jewelry is ultimately theirs,” Lt. Giovanni Trejo said in an email.
Associated Press Writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed.