(With the neighborhood plauged by multiple package thefts lately, Miracle Mile resident Roque Wicker shared this personal account of encountering individuals in the act of stealing packages and mail from his apartment building. Working together with other neighbors, the building management company and security, and the Los Angeles Police Department, two suspects were arrested and charged with multiple counts of burglary.)
Holiday Time is Also Shopping Time for the Criminals…and Then This Happened
By Roque Wicker, Co-Founder & Chief Operations Officer, C-T Watch, Inc.
It was Thanksgiving weekend when I got a crime notice in my email from the management of the apartment complex I live in. Another break in, another package and mail theft, and another violation of our living space in Mid-City West. This has been happening a lot to the point where it was becoming a way of life for us. Luckily I haven’t been personally affected by such thefts but it was only a matter of time before I was. I have always been careful about ordering anything online that had to be delivered via package service, when I do order I track the package and am usually waiting for it at home.
This time was different to me though. I felt that management, security, law enforcement, and the stakeholders of the community needed to come together to address these breeches and crime in our neighborhood once and for all. I saw the photos of the suspect for the first time and after speaking with management I learned that the very same suspect had been getting more and more careless about concealing his identity. For instance, he use to wear a disguise albeit a motorcycle helmet to conceal his identity. And now he decided to discard the disguise and show his actual face on camera.
Between July 2015 and December 2015 this same suspect has been responsible for numerous burglaries in the same block amounting up to about $30k and no one seemed to know what to do about it. There have been 4 detectives assigned to the case but this suspect seemed to know how to hide or evade detection. The burglary and theft statistics were pretty high for a 500 foot radius around our building (28 in total in 6 months).
After receiving the notice from management I sent an email to the building manager and offered her and all the residents a complimentary crime prevention and advanced situational awareness class taught by a retired CIA Operations Officer so that our residents can feel more secure and know what to do when confronted by the types of acts the perpetrators were committing. The class is designed primarily to identify the issues of crime, identify the vulnerability of the the apartment complex, and finally to increase the number of eyes and ears that could report to security or the local police department in cases such as these burglaries.
Side bar: Before I go any further as a reader I want to know more about who is writing this article so I would like to give a little background about myself just to put the story into proper context. My name is Roque “Rocky” Wicker and am a veteran of the U.S. Navy. I co-own a defense contracting firm called C-T Watch, Inc. The company is dedicated to the training and education of Special Operations, Intelligence Community, Law Enforcement agencies, as well as Fortune 500 companies. Our subject matter experts come from diverse backgrounds and are either retirees or have spent most of their careers in Special Operations (SEALs, Army Special Forces etc), Intelligence (CIA, DIA, FBI etc), or Law Enforcement. Most of our training evolutions involve human intelligence, advanced situational awareness, threat and vulnerability assessments and countering of terrorism. I am a sector chief with the Los Angeles FBI InfraGard program (which covers 8 counties). InfraGard is a program which is dedicated to the protection of our national critical infrastructure and key resources in the United States. On a more local level I am all about strengthening the community and increasing its resilience through collaboration with our local partner agencies and stakeholders within the community so I am a Board Member with Mid-City West Neighborhood council representing Zone 7 which covers a small pocket in the area where I live.
My offer of providing the crime prevention lecture was taken seriously by management and we sat down to meet face to face and decided it was a worthwhile effort to involve our stakeholders in a crime awareness program. I wanted a little more background on what we were really dealing with here and found out that this same suspect has been burglarizing my complex for half a year and still maintained his ability to disappear into the shadows. I made an assessment and said to management “I live here and I have some resources I can pull from in my own company and we will get this guy one way or another.” She was happy to hear that but it seemed like she had heard it before.
I started by asking management if I could post up the suspects photo on the Nextdoor.com application (this lets every nearby neighbor on the app identify the suspect). They obliged quite willingly. Second I made a couple recommendations regarding access control into and out of the building, this was a bit more complicated because this suspect knew how to pick locks and or had master keys that he stole from the leasing office. The one thing that stood out about access control was the fact that he had a key fob that scans you in and out of the building and parking garages. Management told me they suspected he stole one but they are pretty sure they deactivated it. The third thing I asked was that the security schedule be switched up and they had already been doing that.
On November 30th right after another break in I posted the suspects photo and description on Nextdoor. Alerting the neighbors to keep their eyes open and to report this person a soon as possible to law enforcement is a key strategy to also alert the suspect that we as a community are on the lookout- hoping that this would deter him from hitting our building again.
On the night of December 6th I was arriving home from out of town and parked in my buildings access controlled underground parking structure. Exhausted, I opened the trunk and sluggishly took my travel bags out of the trunk. When I turned the corner to where the elevator was I was surprised to see a very familiar face standing in front of me, this time he also had a friend and a pull cart full of what I would assume to be stolen packages. I thought “Wow, this guy sure is the most unlucky criminal in the world right now, of all people to run into it had to be me.”
The suspect himself was standing there with an accomplice waiting for me to swipe my key fob to queue the elevator. I put one bag down and pretend to fumble a bit looking for my “missing” keys. “Oh man! I left my keys upstairs” I told them. “I’ve never done that and I’ve never been stuck down here before.” I asked the suspect if he lived here and he said yes so he pulled out his key fob and it didn’t work. He then said there’s a way to go upstairs without the elevator and proceeded to show me the way leaving his accomplice and the loot behind.
I had to get upstairs to call 911 because there’s no reception in the parking garage. As the suspect and I were walking towards the first floor elevators from the parking garage I see a neighbor entering his apartment. At this time the suspect was walking about 15 feet in front of me, I tapped my neighbor on the shoulder and told him to call 911 and gave him the one finger over the lips silent sign – he immediately understood what I meant and disappeared into his apartment.
The suspect and I end up at the elevator and he graciously holds it open for me and asks me what floor so I just chose a random one. While in the elevator I noticed a folding pocket knife in his left pocket that wasn’t folded, this of course concerned me because we were both is an enclosed space and I don’t remember the last time I had knife fighting training inside of an elevator before. It was always in a large room with padding and rubber blades so that no one gets injured. I maintained my distance and made sure I was positioned 45 degrees behind to his left so that I could grab his left arm which would be his knife arm if I needed to. After what seemed to be the longest elevator ride from the first floor to the third floor the doors opened and I jumped out of the elevator and told him to wait while I get my keys. I had a hunch he wasn’t gonna wait and I was right.
I called 911 and alerted them that the suspect was in the building and was armed with a knife. Prior to LAPD showing up I went back to the neighbor and asked if he had called 911 and he stated he did. I then asked that if the police arrive to his door to let me know because I will be outside where the emergency exit was just in case these guys try to run outside and escape. When the police showed up I accompanied them to the parking garage and they searched the entire garage to no avail. By this time the building manager was outside and approached us. The police left a card and said if you see him again please call us. By now it had been almost an hour since the last time I saw the suspect.
In all the chaos I had also called Platinum security (who sent two officers) who was on scene at the same time the manager came outside. With both parties on scene combined with the helpful neighbor who called 911, his wife, and the husband of the building manager, I told them all that we will be conducting a search of the entire building. They all looked at me like I was a Martian but it wasn’t the first time. In the military we go to foreign countries to train their men and women and I have seen the same variation of this look before. One said, “it’s an entire city block!” to which I responded, “This will be quick, effective, and done safely, and we have the power of communications and Close Circuit TV (CCTV)on our side and we may not have this opportunity again.” Everyone agreed to get onboard and were awaiting their assignments.
I assigned a neighbor to the West side of the block where the emergency exit was, his wife to the high foot traffic East side of the block (main entrance) and instructed them to call 911 if they see any of the suspects running out. I made it clear that they do not approach the suspects and if approached to run to safety because of the knife I saw. The manager assigned her husband to the CCTV room and he would give us eyes and ears and provide real time intelligence to us during the search. I assigned the manager to access control and defeat- this requires that every key in the entire building be in her possession during the search. Then I assigned another security guard to patrol from the top down. Myself, the manager, and an armed guard from Platinum security started from the lower level parking garage and performed a clockwise search of the entire garage, checking every storage room, elevator room, pick up truck bed, under cars, garbage disposal rooms and anything you could possibly hide in. During the search I instructed everyone to ensure they close the door of any cleared room and remember door handle positions or markers of post search intrusions (this came in handy later on).
As we made our way up, past clearing the first floor, we headed towards the second floor which again had a parking garage. We noticed some items in peculiar places, in some of the ventilation rooms and fresh dust marks on some of the equipment. We started to make our way up to the third floor via the stairwells and saw a door quickly close right before we could see anyone. We ran up the stairs only to run into a startled neighbor who was moving out. We asked if he saw the suspect and described his clothing and he said yes, he was on his way up on the elevator and I just him like 2 minutes ago. I ran up the stairwell and instructed security to take the elevator to corner the suspect. As we both reached the sixth floor the female security officer gave the silent sign and pointed towards a tiny cable utility room. We opened the door and cramming himself in the corner was the suspect. We (Platinum security officer and I) performed a citizens arrest, properly searched the suspect for weapons, and waited for the police to take the suspect into custody.
While the police were questioning all of us as witnesses another Platinum security officer arrived on scene. The officers collectively decided to go patrol the garage and apartment building one last time for good measure. Within 20 minutes the security officers emerged from the building with the other outstanding suspect and a black Chihuahua. He was found in one of the previously cleared/searched garbage rooms inside of a dumpster.
Overall it was a successful and worthwhile mission for our community. The combination of actionable information, communication, planning, access control, security procedures, awareness, and more importantly the working relationship and cooperation between LAPD, Platinum Security, Essex Management personnel, as well as the residents of the building made this mission a complete success. Working together as a community works and it definitely does prove that with all the proper pieces in place a community can be a force multiplier to the local police department and the residents alike to ensure everyone’s safety and security.
LAPD has now informed us that the suspects will be charged with multiple counts of burglaries.
Important note: the suspects in this incident were not physically harmed during the arrest and were in fact compliant and cooperative with the commands given by the professional security officers during both incidents.
[Editor’s Note: the suspects apprehended in this case are not the same suspects identified in some of the other local package thefts. See our other story today on another suspected duo.]