Sowmya Shankar was at work last year when her neighbor called to say that her house had been broken into. She
figured it was an isolated incident until
four of her friends’ homes were burglarized
in the next two months. None of the stolen
goods were recovered.
Frustrated and angry because we “are
hardworking, taxpaying citizens”, she
dashed off a letter to the Mayor who had the
Houston Police Department look into it.
The past two years have seen a significant
spike in the number of brazen break-ins
into homes in the Clear Lake area in Texas,
particularly the sub divisions of Pine
Brook, Bay Forest, Bay Brook and Bay
Oaks. Several Indian Americans were victims, causing enough concern for the
Indian Association in Clear Lake to organize three meetings with Constable Phil
Sandlin of Harris County Precinct 8 in the
past one year.
Are Indian Americans being targeted by
the burglars? Constable Sandlin told India
Abroad that he did not see this as a trend as
several other homes were also burglarized
around the same time.
Sergeant Gregory Countie from the
Houston Police Department also agreed in
his conversation with India Abroad that
the area had “abnormally high crime data”
during the last two years and added that
the burglars choose “random targets” and
not a particular ethnic group. According to
him, burglars target affluent neighbor-
hoods and Indian Americans, for the most
part, tend to live in affluent neighborhoods.
However, several Indian Americans in
the area remain unconvinced and are concerned.
Ritesh Desai told India Abroad, “Our
community is very affluent. If you drive
down one of the lanes in Bay Oaks, 18 of the
24 homes belong to doctors. Moreover,
when we socialize, we wear expensive
clothes and lots of jewelry and any observer
who sees us will know that he can find a lot
of valuables in our houses.”
Sarita Shah added, “The police will not
agree to the fact that we are being targeted
but it’s a fact.”
Most of the community members India
Abroad spoke with echoed a similar senti-
ment, saying that the common perception
was that those of Indian origin tended to be
And it’s not just homes. Sonal Singh’s
business was broken into. According to her,
burglars do “their research, so to speak.
They are looking at Indian-American busi-
nesses that deal in cash. They look at our
big houses, nice jewelry and when they rob
several Indian-American homes, they see
we have a lot of valuables and they try to
target us more.”
The modus operandi follows a pattern.
There’s the “knock and talk” where the burglars will ring the bell to see if there’s any
one in the house, dogs or a home security
system. If someone answers the door, they
pretend to sell something. If the house is
unoccupied, they go to the rear of the
house, break the back door or a window —
many of them know how to deactivate an
alarm system and crawl to avoid motion
detectors — run to the master bedroom
and use a pillowcase to put the valuables in.
It is believed that they are in the house for
not more than five to six minutes. One
group of associates, it is believd, even
leased expensive cars like BMWs, Lexus,
Tahoes or Cadillacs to blend into the neighborhood.
According to Sergeant Countie, the
homes targeted were located no more than
two turns to the main road for a quick getaway and occurred, for the most part, during the day.
The burglars, the police thought, normally work in groups of three — two who enter
the house and one getaway driver. And at
the moment it is thought that they are
unarmed because if they are caught by the
police when armed they are held for a higher punishable crime.
The HPD did succeed in arresting several
suspects in December last year, which led
to a decrease in the number of burglaries.
But Sumita Jain “still doesn’t feel safe.”
Just last week, a friend’s home in Bay Oaks
Ironically, the burglars entered Jayanti
Rao’s house by breaking the very window
that had the security service provider’s
sticker on it. The burglars “ransacked her
closet” and fled with her jewelry. She has
now added surveillance cameras all around
the house and motion detectors for “peace
of mind when she’s out of the house.”
The stolen valuables are disposed of in
pawn shops or with “not so honest jewelry
shops” and sold for 25 percent of the value.
They are sometimes even sold on Craig’s
List. According to Sergeant Countie, the
success rate for recovering the stolen goods
is only about 15 percent, which he agrees, is
“not very high.”
Multiple reasons account for this. There
are so many burglaries and limited
resources make it hard to follow the leads
in every case. There is little evidence left in
a quick break in. Moreover, the chances of
recovering the stolen valuables are high
only so long as the burglars have not had a
chance to sell it and are caught with it while
being stopped for maybe a traffic violation.
Camera footage helps to a certain extent as
in one case where the suspects were identi-
fied by their tattoos caught on tape.
Sowmya Shankar was quick to admit that
the police responded immediately when
called. She did not blame them for being
unable to recover the stolen goods considering the limited resources they work with
— HPD has 140 police officers for the Clear
Lake area while Precinct 8 has about 25
officers for a population of 135,869 — but
felt that the bail needed to be increased for
the suspects who are caught.
Karun Sreerama, recently appointed as a
community leader by the Houston Police
Department to encourage dialogue
between the community and the
Department, told India Abroad, “The robbers are smart enough to realize or care if
the house belongs to a desi or not.” He
added that they are only interested in target prosperous houses.
His advice is “neighborhood policing and
prevention.” He urged people to set to know
their neighbors and not hesitate to call the
police if they see any suspicious activity.
He also said advertising the security system with a yard sign acts as a deterrent,
and recommended shredding and bagging
empty boxes when electronics are bought
to avoid “letting burglars know you just got
Sergeant Countie also offered some tips
on how we can protect ourselves: Secure
your jewelry in heavy duty safes that are
hard to move, install alarm systems and
video cameras at strategic locations such
as the front and back door and the driveway (it’s about $200 to $600 depending
on how many cameras you want). He
added that saving pictures of jewelry and
the serial numbers of electronics helps in
He also asked resident to report any suspicious activity, avoid putting vacation
plans on social media and encouraged
turning on the lights to give the house an
occupied look when going out in the
(Some names have been changed on
The community believes so after a spate of burglaries, but cops assure Manu Shah
that the burglars choose random targets and not a particular ethnic group.
Are burglars in Texas targeting Indian-American homes?
an affluent area of houston, Texas.