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Combating a Wave of Home Burglaries Targeting Asian-American Business Owners in Montgomery

By Richard D. Smith | Posted September 5, 2023

Here’s a disturbing statistic: Of the eight most recent residential burglaries in Montgomery Township, six were committed in the homes of Asian-American business owners.

“It’s not proportional to the overall township population,” said Lt. Andrew Perry of the Montgomery Police Department, with powerful understatement.

Lt. Andrew Perry of the Montgomery Township Police Department.

Lt. Andrew Perry of the MTPD.

Lt. Perry was giving a PowerPoint prepared by his colleague Detective Adam Verducci to an August 15 public information session at the Ya Ya Noodles restaurant on Route 206. The event (co-organized by the Montgomery PD and the Montgomery Business Association) was about how hard-working, successful Asian-American business owners are increasingly targeted for home burglaries by well-organized criminal gangs.

Some 25 people attended, including Asian business owners and Ya Ya Noodles owner, and meeting host, Sushi John.

The Montgomery Business Association (MBA) and Sgt. Brian Hofacker of the MTPD organized the event. Attendees included MBA President James Danner, member Tracy Sonner, Somerset County Prosecutor John P. McDonald, and Montgomery Police Director Silvio Bet.

몽고메리의 아시아계 미국인 사업주를 대상으로 한 주택 절도 사건 대응

मोंटगोमरी में एशियाई-अमेरिकी व्यापार मालिकों को निशाना बनाकर घरेलू चोरियों की लहर का मुकाबला करना


Translation: Combating a Wave of Home Burglaries Targeting Asian-American Business Owners in Montgomery (in Simplified Chinese, Korean, Hindi, and Thai.)

Why a Crime Wave Now?

“Why are they coming after you?” asked Lt. Perry, addressing the Asian Americans present. “It’s a new territory for them, and you’re a successful group.”

The gangs know their potential victims’ work ethic keeps them away from home most of the day. And these Asian Americans’ hard-earned prosperity, plus a traditional cultural valuation of precious-stone jewelry and gold, gives these criminals hope that a burglary will net a rich haul.

“This is going on all over,” Lt. Perry said. “Not only in Montgomery or Somerset County, but all over the Northeast. The FBI is taking an interest because this is a multi-state phenomenon.”

He emphasized these are not crimes of opportunity by local individuals but carefully pre-planned actions by organized full time, multi-state groups.

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Some good news: So far, these gangs have not proven violent. They are not armed robbers of stores or homes, but sneak thieves who strike when homeowners are away, “to get in and out” as Lt. Perry put it.

“They’re not violent, but they’re really motivated and they’re really smooth,” Lt. Perry said. “They’re clean cut people. And they use females a lot, that’s specific to this group.”

Gang members will pose as delivery persons to scout potential targets. Their preferred entry points are typically second-story windows or basement windows, which are often not on home alarm systems.

So, the police strongly recommend high quality, well-functioning, house-wide alarm systems, preferably with video surveillance and motion detectors. Indeed, such high-grade home security helped win a recent notable victory in the new burglary wars.

Sgt. Jason R. Lawson reports an Asian American family in Montgomery was monitoring their house when they saw an intruder inside in real time. The homeowner called 911, the Montgomery police quickly responded, and an arrest was made.

(Similar important burglary-in-progress arrests have been made in other area municipalities, according to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.)

Trail camera

Burglars use trail cameras, which are camouflaged, to spy on potential victims.

However, these criminals employ technology themselves. “They use trail cameras a lot, attached to a tree or in shrubbery near homes, for surveillance,” Lt. Perry revealed. “The images can be sent to them via Wi-Fi. They’re willing to put the time in to figure you out. It’s their full-time job. As hard as you work at your business is as hard as they work at their business.”

Because these burglars locate and follow potential victims on social media, Lt. Perry warned against publicly posting vacation plans. He also encouraged citizens to sign up for regular police drive-by checks before they go away.

If suspicious persons are sitting in cars or driving repeatedly through the neighborhood, residents should call 911 for the police to investigate.

Bother the Cops

“Timing is important. Sometimes citizens will call a friend because they don’t want to bother the cops. Bother the cops,” Perry said with a smile.

Montgomery Township committeeman Dennis Ahn, himself an Asian American business person, is involved in getting out the word.

“I can’t say enough good things about our police department,” he said. “They understand the concerns and fears of our community.”

Montgomery Township Committeeman Dennis Ahn

Montgomery Township Committeeman Dennis Ahn is also a business owner.

Ahn went with officers to visit Asian American-owned businesses and promote the session. “The Asian-American community is hard to reach,” Ahn said. “There’s often a language barrier.”

“As a child of Asian-American business owners, this especially touches me,” Ahn said. “Having a small business. Having to be there all the time. Working so hard to make a living for their family. Now they’re targeted and have to face this scary ordeal.”

Ahn said many local Asian-Americans who need this information “couldn’t make it to the meeting because they run one- or two-person businesses and can’t spare someone.”

He recommends the creation and distribution of brochures about this crime wave, printed in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Japanese, Thai, and other Asian and South Asian languages.

Grace Zhang, a Princeton-based financial services provider, attended as both a concerned citizen and as a 6th NJ legislative district candidate for Assembly in the November 7 elections. She provided perspective for The Montgomery News.

Grace Zhang for Assembly

Grace Zhang.

Zhang noted that “Asian families move to Princeton and Montgomery for the secure environment and good schools. They work hard, obey the laws, pay taxes, and do their best to raise their children well. So, having the sense of security is important to them and is the foundation of a thriving community.”

But crimes against Asian Americans could be underreported, she said, due to “language barriers, not being familiar with the process, fear of not being taken seriously by law enforcement, and lack of awareness of their rights and the resources available.”

Zhang advocates strong connections between the community and police, training officers about cultural differences, and having translation services available.

(Read “What Happens When the Police Need to Speak to a Person Who Does Not Speak English?” The Montgomery News, July 2023)

Pat Todd, Montgomery Township Committeewoman

Montgomery Committeewoman Patricia Taylor Todd.

Montgomery Committeewoman Patricia Taylor Todd spoke up at the meeting, saying: “As the township committee’s liaison to the Inclusion and Equity Committee, I was very dismayed to hear about the surge in crime targeted against our Asian business owners. I am proud of our police department’s initiative in tackling this troubling crime wave.”

Todd said fighting these crimes exemplifies the township’s commitment to the equality and well-being of all its citizens. “The diversity of our community is part of what makes Montgomery a wonderful place to live,” she said. “Part of honoring that diversity is making sure everyone feels safe and their rights are always respected and protected.”

Indeed, strengthening ties between minority citizens and the police was a major theme of law enforcement officers and officials at the information session.

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Somerset County Prosecutor John P. McDonald praised the Montgomery police department as being “excellent.” Working with Montgomery Township police and officials to tackle this new crime wave is one of his priorities, he said.

McDonald acknowledged the psychological traumas as well as the material losses of burglaries, and assured Asian Americans that they “have a sympathetic ear” at the Office of the Prosecutor during this challenging time.

“Community policing is all about relationships,” said Lt. Perry. He urges all citizens to immediately call 911 about suspicious persons or crimes in progress.

“Montgomery has 32 square miles to patrol. You’re out there all the time, so you can be a force multiplier.” “We’re here to help you,” he said. “Please engage with us.” ■


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