California targets smash-and-grabs with $267 million program aimed at ‘brazen’ store thefts
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California will spend $267 million to help dozens of local law enforcement agencies increase patrols, buy surveillance equipment and conduct other activities aimed at cracking down on smash-and-grab robberies happening around the state.
Officials from the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco and Los Angeles law enforcement agencies made the announcement Friday. It follows a string of brazen luxury store robberies in recent months, where dozens of individuals come into a store and begin stealing en masse.
Videos of the incidents have quickly spread online and fueled critics who argue California takes too lax an approach to crime.
“Enough with these brazen smash-and-grabs — we’re ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to take down these criminals,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement about the grants.
The spending comes from a pot of money Newsom first requested in late 2021, after he signed a law to reestablish a statewide taskforce to focus on investigating organized theft rings. The money will be given through grants to 55 agencies, including local police departments, sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.
The grants, to be distributed over the next three years, will help local law enforcement agencies create investigative units, increase foot patrol, purchase advanced surveillance technology and equipment, as well as crack down on vehicle and catalytic converter theft — an issue that has become rampant in the Bay Area. The money would also help fund units in district attorney’s offices dedicated to prosecuting these crimes.
California Highway Patrol Commissioner Sean Duryee called the money “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 said at a news conference Friday.
Retailers in California and in cities elsewhere around the U.S., including Chicago and Minneapolis, have recently been targeted by large-scale thefts when groups of people show up in groups for mass shoplifting events or to enter stores and smash and grab from display cases.
Several dozen people participated in a brazen smash-and-grab flash mob at a Nordstrom store in the Westfield Topanga Shopping Center last month. Authorities said they used bear spray on a security guard, the Los Angeles Times reported, and the store suffered losses between $60,000 and $100,000.
Video showed a chaotic scene, with masked thieves running through the store – one dragging a display rack behind them. They smashed glass cases and grabbed expensive merchandise like luxury handbags and designer clothing as they fled.
Other high-end malls have been hit in similar fashion in recent years. Lately, a Gucci store and a Yves Saint Laurent store were major targets in the Los Angeles area, prompting authorities to announce a new task force to investigate the crimes.
“No Angeleno should feel like it’s not safe to go shopping in Los Angeles,” Mayor Karen Bass said last month while announcing the new task force. “No entrepreneur should feel like it’s not safe to open a business.”
Since 2019, law enforcement in California has arrested more than 1,250 people and recovered $30.7 million in stolen merchandise, the governor’s office said.
The new funding is essential to help law enforcement respond to large-scale, organized crimes that could turn violent, said Los Angeles Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco.
“Recently, we’ve seen suspects use weapons consisting of firearms, pepper spray and bear spray to fend off employees or loss prevention officers and just cause chaos to the people shopping there,” she said Friday. “Our goal is to reduce the number of retail thefts and actively investigate all the criminals involved.”
Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.