California Launches $267 Million Initiative to Combat ‘Brazen’ Store Thefts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will allocate $267 million to support local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to increase patrols, purchase surveillance equipment, and implement other activities to crack down on smash-and-grab robberies occurring across the state.

The announcement was made by officials from the California Highway Patrol, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Los Angeles Police Department on Friday. It comes in response to a series of audacious luxury store robberies in recent months, where groups of individuals storm into stores and engage in mass theft.

These incidents have gained widespread attention through viral videos and have fueled criticisms about California’s lenient crime policies.

“Enough with these brazen smash-and-grabs – we’re ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to take down these criminals,” said Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in a statement regarding the grants.

The funding is part of a request made by Newsom in late 2021, after he signed a law to reestablish a statewide task force focused on investigating organized theft rings. The money will be distributed through grants to 55 agencies, including local police departments, sheriff’s offices, and district attorney’s offices.

The grants, spread out over the next three years, will enable local law enforcement agencies to establish investigative units, increase foot patrols, acquire advanced surveillance technology and equipment, and crackdown on vehicle and catalytic converter theft, which has become a prevalent issue in the Bay Area. The funds will also support district attorney’s offices in the prosecution of these crimes.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Sean Duryee described the funding as a “game changer.”

“This is a sizable investment that will be a force multiplier when it comes to combating organized retail crime in California,” he stated at a news conference on Friday.

Retailers in California and other cities in the United States, such as Chicago and Minneapolis, have been targeted by large-scale thefts in recent times, where groups of people engage in mass shoplifting or smash-and-grab thefts from display cases.

Last month, a brazen smash-and-grab flash mob involving several dozen individuals took place at a Nordstrom store in the Westfield Topanga Shopping Center. According to authorities, they used bear spray on a security guard, resulting in the store sustaining losses ranging from $60,000 to $100,000.

Video footage showed chaotic scenes, with masked thieves running through the store, dragging display racks, smashing glass cases, and stealing expensive merchandise like luxury handbags and designer clothing.

Similar incidents have also occurred at other high-end malls in recent years. As a response, a task force has been established to investigate these crimes, with Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent stores being major targets in the Los Angeles area.

“No Angeleno should feel unsafe when shopping in Los Angeles. No entrepreneur should feel unsafe when opening a business,” said Mayor Karen Bass while announcing the task force last month.

Since 2019, law enforcement agencies in California have arrested over 1,250 individuals and recovered $30.7 million worth of stolen merchandise, according to the governor’s office.

Los Angeles Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco emphasized that the new funding is essential to enabling law enforcement to respond to large-scale, organized crimes that have the potential to turn violent.

“Recently, we’ve seen suspects use weapons such as firearms, pepper spray, and bear spray to fend off employees or loss prevention officers and cause chaos to shoppers. Our goal is to reduce the number of retail thefts and actively investigate all the criminals involved,” said Francisco.

This report contains material from the Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles.

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