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2/13 Oaklnand, CA: Thieves preying on undocumented immigrants, police say
Released 20 February 2007  By Christopher Heredia -SF Chronicle

Thieves preying on undocumented immigrants, police say

Christopher Heredia, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Oakland is witnessing a rising crime trend of young "rat packs" preying on poor, often undocumented immigrants who carry their cash with them, according to a new police report.

The street term is "amigo checking," in part because the victims are often Latinos, said Capt. Dave Kozicki.

"It's a sad commentary on our society," Kozicki said, noting that police are stretched thin contending with more violent crimes. Among department responses to the problem are having officers pose as decoys and promoting self-defense training for Latino merchants and other victims.

"There's a whole class of criminals who fancy themselves as the Robin Hoods," Kozicki said. "They justify it by saying, 'You're not documented. You're an illegal alien. I'm a citizen.' They see the immigrant community as easy pickings."

Others do it for the thrill, he said.

Oakland police will present a report on amigo checking along with other emerging crime trends at tonight's City Council public safety committee meeting.

Immigrant advocacy groups say undocumented workers become targets of the sometimes violent attacks in part because they carry large sums of money earned under the table or cash they are planning to send home to relatives.

Some don't keep bank accounts because banks in their home countries are known for being corrupt, and many are reluctant to report being victimized because they don't speak English or are fearful of being deported.

The report came as a surprise to Gilda Gonzales, chief executive officer of the Unity Council, an immigrant advocacy organization in Oakland. "Jesus Christ!" she said. "Add it to the list of things we'll be discussing at our next meeting with our merchants."

The problem is complicated by a cross-racial component, Kozicki said, since perpetrators in most of the crimes are young African Americans. But he added, "It's really a small percentage of people in a community doing this."

Efforts have been made to reach out to African American youth so they will be more willing to identify associates engaging in criminal activity, Kozicki said.

Gonzales said she'd heard from merchants that there were more robberies in the Fruitvale area -- especially around the holidays -- with thieves taking advantage of the lack of visible police presence.

Gonzales said robberies appear to have subsided somewhat in the past couple of weeks since two officers were assigned to patrol the area -- one on foot and the other by car.

Robbery in Oakland is not limited to immigrant neighborhoods. Police are seeing an increase in robberies in affluent areas, prompting calls from residents in those neighborhoods for more foot patrols.

Police speculate that the increase may stem in part from street dealers who see the narcotics trade becoming less lucrative and more dangerous.

Targeting immigrants is not unique to Oakland. Last month Richmond police were called to investigate the fatal robbery of an El Salvadoran immigrant. The city's street thugs sometimes refer to Latino and Asian laborers as "ATM machines."

Gonzales said her organization will be working with local banks and merchants including street vendors to educate them about the benefits of having a bank account for security and creditworthiness.

She cited a recent study showing a $200 million cash economy in the largely immigrant Fruitvale District.

Other emerging trends police will discuss tonight an increase in the number of homicides related to Latino gangs in which non-gang members are sometimes caught in the crossfire.

In 2006, there was a 5.5 percent increase in serious crimes, including a 68.2 percent increase in homicides, a 50.3 percent increase in gun-related assaults, and a 23.4 percent increase in robberies, according to police.

While violent crime increased, burglaries decreased by 7.3 percent, police said.


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