Law enforcement officials said Wednesday that increased numbers of uniformed and undercover officers will be patrolling stores in retail districts during the holiday season in efforts to combat smash-and-grab crimes.
“Merchants and consumers can expect to see an increase in patrols both in high visibility and undercover capacities as we work to combat retail theft throughout the holiday season,” Sean Duryee, commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, said. “This is a time for law enforcement to help Californians feel safe.”
To criminals planning to commit store thefts, he added, “the deck is stacked against you.” In a virtual news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 22, crime fighters from throughout the state said efforts to combat retail theft are a priority.
Since Gov. Gavin Newsom formed the Organized Retail Crime Task Force in 2019, over 2,200 investigations into retail crimes in California have resulted in at least 1,500 arrests statewide, with nearly 420,000 items of stolen retail merchandise valued at more than $33 million recovered, Duryee said. The state’s 2023-24 budget includes more than $800 million — including $267 million in grants to police and sheriff’s departments, district attorney’s offices and probation departments in 55 cities and counties — for programs focusing on retail crime.
“When criminals run out of stores with stolen goods, they need to be arrested and escorted directly into jail cells,” Newsom said in a statement. “Leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement investments, the California Highway Patrol — working with allied agencies — is increasing enforcement efforts and conducting and supporting covert and confidential takedowns to stop these criminals in their tracks during the holiday season, and year-round.”
In such crimes, groups of suspects swarm into stores grabbing armfuls of merchandise, sometimes using tools to break glass display cases or cut security cords. Organized retail crime groups frequently target high-end stores in malls, using bear and pepper spray to fend off security and cause chaos.
Los Angeles County Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco said her agency is working to arrest not only the thieves themselves but the “criminal chain” that supports them, including getaway drivers and fences who buy stolen merchandise. She pointed to an increase in robbery crews driving from Northern California to Los Angeles to commit thefts. Francisco and Duryee urged members of the community to share information with law enforcement if they see retail crimes, but warned individuals to stay safe.
“Be a good witness, but don’t get involved,” Duryee said. “It’s not worth being injured.”