A string of burglaries targeting the homes of East Indian and Asian Americans has brought home to Johnson County a crime pattern that has been seen across the country and the world in recent years.
Police and community leaders say the burglars have struck about a dozen homes in Overland Park, Olathe and Lenexa over the past two months, looking primarily for heirloom gold jewelry that is a cultural norm for these families.
“This isn’t just exclusive to us,” said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, who met recently with more than 100 concerned members of the Indian-American community. “Numerous major cities have had this.”
An Internet search reveals similar schemes have taken place from coast to coast, including the metro areas of Washington, D.C., Dallas and Bloomington, Ill.
“Indian and Asian families traditionally purchase and hold gold and jewelry,” Douglass said. “This group has figured that out, and they get lists of the local Indian and Asian population and target them.”
Douglass said the break-ins have mainly taken place during the late afternoon, after a knock at the home’s front door goes unanswered. He said his department is devoting “considerable resources” to catching the thieves and breaking the pattern here.
Sridhar Harohalli is the president of the India Association of Kansas City, and was one of the organizers of the meeting with police. He said he was pleased with the official response, and that the community is reacting with increased awareness and reporting any suspicious activity.
That was confirmed by Yogesh Karia, proprietor of the Namaste Indian grocery at 10563 Metcalf Ave.
“The whole community knows about it,” Karia said.
Harohalli and another organizer of the meeting with police, past association president Venkat Manda, said detectives told them that, in addition to Indian Americans, immigrants from Vietnam and Taiwan have been targeted in the recent burglary spree. They have also heard of such break-ins in Bonner Springs and Blue Springs.
Douglass said it’s possible that the current burglars that have perpetrated such crimes in other locales and then moved here.
“There has been a lot of that in the retail areas,” Douglass said. “These are not all local shoplifters, but groups that come in from around the world to do financial crimes at our shopping centers.”
And, of course, there could be copycats at work, too.
Douglass said he couldn’t give away too much detail, but that his department was “working on some suspects and with other law-enforcement agencies.”
Manda and Harohalli said the meeting with Douglass and one of his detectives gave those who attended some good tips on avoiding victimization. They have created a Facebook page to spread those tips and awareness.
“They are all prepared,” Manda said. “There is no gold at home anymore. We’ve decided enough is enough. We are not going to let this happen anymore. Every small thing will be reported and investigated. … We’re going to catch these guys.”