Town Hall in Bloomfield Hills discusses South American gangs, home break-ins

'We’re very concerned,' one resident said
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Posted at 10:56 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 23:24:32-04

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (WXYZ) — Monday night in Bloomfield Hills, dozens came out for a town hall focused on the rash of South American burglars targeting high-end homes.

Thefts have been reported in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and is part of a nationwide trend that’s been ongoing for months.

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Oakland County sheriff to hold public town hall on high-end break-ins tonight

Monday's event comes after months of investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement and the creation of a regional task force. Police and the Oakland County sheriff say they’ve been getting so many calls from concerned residents that they wanted to have a town hall to answer questions, and explain what they know.

Dozens packed into pews at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills for the event.

“We’re very concerned like all of our neighbors," Bloomfield Township resident Jack Martin said. "There doesn't seem to be an end in sight.”

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Bloomfield Township resident Jack Martin talks about recent break-ins at upscale homes in Oakland County. (May 13, 2024‚

Martin and his neighbors from Bloomfield Township came out after multiple homes in their neighborhood were broken into including the home right next door.

“We're looking at alarm systems and how we can enhance those,” Martin said. “We're hopeful that law enforcement in this area, in this state and other law enforcement officials can get it straightened out.”

“We had a car parked in front of our home and it was a stolen car with four guys in it,” said Albert Cassar, who also lives in the same neighborhood and says his next door neighbor fell victim to the burglars. “They actually threw the safe in a Bentley comfortable and took off with it.”

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Albert Cassar and his wife Janette talk about break-ins at high-end homes in Oakland County. (May 13, 2024)

"It’s scary. It's just too close for comfort,” Albert's wife Janette Cassar added.

They're just some of the concerned residents that showed up for the town hall, where Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and multiple police agencies came together to give tips and discuss the investigation.

“It's important for them (residents) to see that we're not just one agency working this — we're working as a unified force to try and solve these crimes,” Bloomfield Township Police Chief James Gallagher said.

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Bouchard says it's estimated that 100 of the crews are operating nationwide, mostly coming from Chile. At one point, they were stealing $1 million a week from Oakland County. They're highly trained and well organized, surveying expensive homes before planning their heist when no one is home.

“They've done pre-op surveillance," Bouchard explained. "We've seen here and across the country utilizing trail cameras, remote battery operated cameras, trackers on cars and even drone units.”

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Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard addresses high-end home break-ins. (May 13, 2024)

While the thieves have ran off when homes are occupied, Bouchard warned that may not always be the case. He's urging the importance of alarm systems, hard wired cameras, keeping lights on and watching for anything suspicious.

“I thought it was very informative," Bloomfield Township resident Bettye Martin said. "A lot of the things he said we're doing. But... there’s no guarantee, obviously.”

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Bettye Martin talks about break-ins at high-end homes in Oakland County. (May 13, 2024)

Another tip Bouchard said is to have the phone number of your local police department programmed into your phone. If you're out of town and your cameras alert you that someone is in your home, calling 911 will route you to the local dispatch where you are and not where you live. Having a direct number could lead to a quicker response time.