Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento police arrest more than 50 in robberies targeting Asian Americans

A Sacramento resident for 35 years, Tom Phong talks about the problems of slow police response in south Sacramento robberies on Wednesday September 7, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif.
A Sacramento resident for 35 years, Tom Phong talks about the problems of slow police response in south Sacramento robberies on Wednesday September 7, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Peter Chung can’t stop reliving the horror that visited his family last June, when two armed men kicked down the front door of his south Sacramento home and held him, his brother and mother hostage at gunpoint while they searched their belongings.

The men then forced the three into a car, drove them to two banks and forced one of the sons to withdraw $8,000.

The details of their five-hour ordeal were spelled out by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office on Aug. 3, after two men, Antione Cisco and Reynaldo Eknar, were convicted on kidnapping and robbery charges. Both were arrested by Sacramento police officers after the son – ordered to withdraw another $8,000 at the second bank – instead alerted workers, prompting them to call 911.

On Wednesday night, Chung, 31, revisited the incident in front of about 60 people gathered at the Sacramento Police Department’s headquarters on Freeport Boulevard. He’s one of many Asian American residents who have been targeted in a series of robberies in south Sacramento, a trend that has persisted for more than a year, police say.

“These people stole my life, my identity,” Chung said Wednesday. “This is just the start, talking about it and releasing that shame.”

The Police Department has made some progress in fighting the crime wave since it first began last summer, officials said. More than 50 people have been arrested in connection to robberies of Asian Americans, said John Fan, a detective with the department’s Central Division. That number is up from the 20 arrests reported by the department in October 2016.

In the department’s District 6, which covers the southeastern portion of the city, including the Tahoe Park and Elmhurst neighborhoods, police saw a 40 percent decrease in robberies, home-invasions and carjacking cases with Asian victims year-to-date, though violent crime in that area rose 25 percent from 2015 to 2016, said Eddie Macaulay, a department spokesman.

Wednesday’s meeting was one of about a half dozen hosted by the Sacramento Police Department this year in an ongoing effort to educate the public about the crimes, Macaulay said. It comes after an uptick in robberies in south Sacramento in the last few weeks, Fan added.

While robberies of Asian Americans are down in District 6, recent figures also show home invasions, robberies and carjackings committed against Asian Americans have increased by 25 percent year-to-date in the Sacramento Police Department’s District 5, Macaulay said. That area includes the Meadowview and Parkway neighborhoods and overlaps the city’s District 8, which is represented by Councilman Larry Carr. Carr did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

The department’s District 4 also saw an 8 percent increase in the same crimes in the same timeframe, Macaulay said. That police beat includes the Land Park, Greenhaven and Pocket neighborhoods.

“It’s been a trend that we saw last year and we’ve seen this year again,” he said. “We want people to be aware.”

Most of the suspects in custody are young men in their teens and early 20s who come from different racial backgrounds, Fan said Wednesday night. Some of them are affiliated with gangs. Almost all are armed during the robberies, which typically happen in groups. The department is withholding the suspects’ information as the investigation continues, Macaulay said.

The robberies themselves share some similar characteristics as well. In many cases, the victims are followed home by the suspects and approached while they are leaving their car or walking up to their home after dark. Elderly people are more likely to be targets, Fan said.

In some instances, the victims can’t speak English. Others don’t want to call police at all in fear of retaliation by the suspects or because they feel like they are inconveniencing officers, he added.

The robberies have kept many Asian American families on high alert, said Tom Phong, a south Sacramento resident who attended the Wednesday night meeting. Phong is the owner of Welco Supermarket in south Sacramento, and helped deliver a petition with 2,000 signatures to the city in September 2016 urging then-Mayor Kevin Johnson to take action to stop the robberies.

He and other locals still communicate through a group they created using the app WeChat to share information and alert others when they are being robbed and they don’t want to call police. Phong, along with other people in the Asian American Public Safety Service Center group, described as a neighborhood watch, show up and attempt to drive the suspects away, he said.

Their last summons came about three months ago, when as many as 25 people showed up to the location, Phong said.

“There’s a lot of robberies, and immigrants, they don’t want to report,” he said. “I do think things have changed but not a lot.”

Fan said the department is dedicating officers to specialty patrols in hotspots like Lemon Hill to weed out the problem. Increased vigilance by neighbors, and better communication between police, local government, business leaders and community members also has helped, said City Councilman Eric Guerra, who oversees District 6.

“When a crime occurs, or when people have a question about criminal activity, we don’t want them to second guess whether they should call police or not,” Guerra said.

Guerra also said some of the victims in his district fear their immigration status could lead to deportation if they call police.

Last year, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department also reported a swell in robberies targeting Asian Americans out of their central division, which covers parts of the unincorporated county in south Sacramento. Those crimes are overall down from last year, when the Sheriff’s Department got 113 calls for robberies with Asian victims from the beginning of the year through September, said Lt. Jim Barnes, who works in the division. This year, that number was down to 92 in the same timeframe, he said.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had was getting people to report,” he said. “We’ve had people at the meetings say they have marijuana grows in their backyard.”

Barnes said that people should still call police if they are victims of crime, no matter what their situation.

“Our intent is not to go into backyards and say, ‘You can’t be doing this,’ ” he said. “Just call us, we’re in the business of helping human beings.”

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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