Watch Out! Cops Say WeHo Pickpocket Problem is Out of Control

The up-close-and-personal thievery epidemic has ”more than doubled” since the pre-pandemic era, says LASD Sergeant Joana Warren

Just three months after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported that crime in West Hollywood had risen by a troubling 137 percent this year, authorities are now warning the public to be even more wary of their fellow citizens as the area’s pickpocket problem is reaching alarming new heights.

In May, police said roughly 80 phones were reported as being pickpocketed, the LASD’s West Hollywood division tweeted last week, advising, “If you’re coming to #WeHo please make sure to secure your phone, avoid carrying wallet cases containing your cash, debit card and driver’s license and be very vigilant!”

LASD Sergeant Joana Warren said pickpocketing reports have surged in the area since the pandemic.

“From 2019, pre-COVID, until now, with everything reopening again, it has more than doubled,” she told KTLA. The department received 296 reports of pickpocketing incidents from January 1 through May 31, she told Crosstown. In 2019, there were only 127 cases during that time frame.

Warren said many of these modern day Artful Dodgers work in groups of up to 10 people, and try to cause distractions in crowds, particularly at bars and nightclubs. Phones are the most commonly lifted item.

“If you go down Santa Monica Boulevard, most of the bars there, most of the adult entertainment areas, they have signs outside that say, ‘Make sure you secure your valuables, make sure you secure your cell phone,’” Warren told Crosstown.

She told KTLA, “They go in there, they steal the phones, they come right back out and pass the phones to two or three other people. It’s very organized. They do it quickly, they do a lot of it, and then they go home for the night with up to 20–some nights we’ve seen 40–cell phones.”

But West Hollywood isn’t the only area experiencing an issue with pocket thieves. Such incidents have been reported throughout Los Angeles.

From January 1 through May 15, there were 364 pickpocketing, pickpurse, and purse-snatching cases in the city, according to data from the Los Angeles Police Department. That’s a massive spike from the 23 incidents that happened over the same time period the previous year.

According to LAPD data, women are far more likely to fall prey to such crimes. As of early June, 256 victims were women, while 97 were men.

“We have had more planned operations this year I can remember because of this problem,” Detective Gary Kukaua of the LAPD’s Hollywood robbery division told Crosstown. “Everyone’s aware of it here.”

He added, “All these other units within the division are also aware and everyone’s trying to come up with solutions for this problem.”

Other areas that have seen increases in pickpocketing include Downtown, which had 68 cases as of early June, and Koreatown which had 33 reports, according to Crosstown.

Warren said pickpocketing reports tend to increase during holiday weeks, adding that the department has been warning club operators and security staff to be extra vigilant during Pride Month in June.

To avoid getting pickpocketed, law enforcement officials urge those carrying a purse to always zip it shut, never leave personal items unattended, and refrain from keeping credit cards in the back of phone cases.

“Just remember to keep the phone in your hand,” Warren told KTLA. “Not on your person, but in your hands.”

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.