Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard called Friday for tighter border security as his office works with multiple agencies to intercept the efforts of “transnational gangs” involved in “high-end burglaries,” prowling across Oakland county and throughout the nation.
The sheriff detailed at a press conference what officials have learned about the burglaries that have ravaged Michigan’s second most populous county, resulting in what Bouchard described as the loss of “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of merchandise. He did not detail how many arrests have been made or other details authorities have complied in connection with incidents but said “there are specific threads” officials are aware of.
“These are transnational gangs that are involved in this that come from South America, looking to do burglaries and violate our communities, not just in Oakland County but across America,” Bouchard said. “It’s criminality at its organized crime best in terms of that’s how it functions. They work together, and they’re here for a specific purpose.”
Gangs members, according to Bouchard, have been cited from countries such as Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela.
Transnational gangs commit violent crimes against “citizens and facilitate criminal activity such as narcotics and firearms trafficking, sex trafficking, human smuggling and trafficking and corruption,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement.
The sheriff noted that the theft groups typically enter the country illegally through the southern border or by using the Visa Waiver Program, which the State Department’s website says allows most nationals from select countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
Once in the country, group members purchase fake identification, establish residency in the areas they intend to violate and cancel their return date as required of the VWP program, Bouchard added.
He said their method of operation included targeting jewelry, precious metals, high-end watches, purses, electronics, currency and safes that can easily be broken into “on scene,” adding that the money acquired from the stolen merchandise is transferred to families and locations outside the U.S.
“They look for the best moment and time to hit a home. Typically, in our area, it’s between 5 to 9 p.m. … in homes that are isolated,” Bouchard noted.
To combat the issue, the sheriff called for tighter border restrictions as his office continues to works with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
“Border security for everybody is critically important,” Bouchard said. “… Secure the border first and foremost because America is getting crushed with fentanyl, human trafficking, terrorist activity .. and obviously, transnational gangs that are attacking communities right here in Oakland County.”
For roughly a year, theft groups composed of up to four people have attacked between eight and 11 communities across the county, with a surge of break-ins reported over the last month, the sheriff added.
He said one of the groups is focused on targeting unoccupied homes.
“They’re focused on the target, not on the community,” Bouchard said. “They don’t recognize jurisdictions or borders of a country, a state or a county.”
Bouchard advised high-end homeowners to invest in home security measures to reduce the risks of being targeted, including the use of cameras, layered security covering windows and points of entry, and keeping valuables in heavy duty safes anchored to the floor or walls.