Largely Asian neighborhoods in south Sacramento have seen a spike in robberies over the past year. Some victims are reluctant to call police. Paul Kitagaki Jr. The Sacramento Bee
Largely Asian neighborhoods in south Sacramento have seen a spike in robberies over the past year. Some victims are reluctant to call police. Paul Kitagaki Jr. The Sacramento Bee

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Sacramento's Asian Americans 'worried for their life' ask mayor for help

By Nashelly Chavez

nchavez@sacbee.com

September 06, 2016 05:56 PM

Asian American residents of south Sacramento are seeking Mayor Kevin Johnson’s help in combating what they call an alarming trend of robberies targeting their community.

They say the robberies often include home invasions in which multiple people break into a residence and take a homeowner’s valuables and money. People are sometimes robbed at gunpoint and in broad daylight.

“I feel like I’m not safe,” said Tom Phong, owner of the Welco Supermarket in south Sacramento.

Phong, who has lived in Sacramento for 35 years, joined roughly 60 local volunteers who planned to hand-deliver a written plea for help to Johnson during Tuesday’s Sacramento City Council meeting.

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In its letter to the mayor, signed by 2,000 members of the community, the group explains that an uptick in robberies has some Asian Americans in south Sacramento fearing for their safety while conducting day-to-day tasks, like going to the mailbox or taking out the trash.

“We just want to let them know that everybody is worried for their life,” Phong said.

Matthew McPhail, a spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, said Tuesday that the department first sent out a message regarding the robberies in March on social networking site NextDoor.com.

In that message, signed by Lt. Bob McCloskey of the East Area Command, residents of the Avondale, Fruitridge Manor, Glen Elder and Southeast Village neighborhoods were warned of an increase in armed robberies specifically targeting Asian Americans.

Homeowners living in those areas were encouraged to contact police if they saw unfamiliar people sitting in vehicles for a long time, or if they believed a vehicle was following them. Several victims were targeted late at night, as they were exiting their cars and returning home, according to the post.

With increased attention to these type of robberies, McPhail said the Police Department has held informational meetings in the area.

“We are empathetic to concerns from members of this community who would like to know what is going on, and we are being responsive to those concerns and inquiries by reaching out,” McPhail said.

The most recent meeting, last Thursday, was attended by dozens of people and translated into three languages for those in attendance, he said. Both McPhail and community members acknowledged that a language barrier between officers and residents was an additional hurdle.

“These victims that are getting robbed, they have limited English and might be turned off by the idea of contacting police,” said Phong’s son, Alvin Phong.

According to McPhail, police have arrested at least 10 people this year who are suspected of targeting Asian Americans in south Sacramento. He added that detectives are investigating the robberies and are working with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which patrols unincorporated south Sacramento.

But Phong and his son said more needs to be done by police and the city. They said they hope to work with the mayor, Councilman Eric Guerra, who represents their district, and local law enforcement to stop the robberies.

“If the police don’t step up to protect us from crime, it could get real messy,” Phong said.

Crystal Strait, Johnson’s chief of staff, said she had not heard about the petition or the letter before Tuesday afternoon but said that the mayor was interested in working with the community members on the issue.

“Mayor Johnson is committed to working with council member Guerra and the Police Department to make sure all community members feel safe in their homes,” Strait said.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets