Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors across Los Angeles County are establishing a task force aimed at stopping the rising number of “flash mob” style thefts targeting retailers.
The task force, announced at a news conference Thursday, involves the L.A. Police Department, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, police in Glendale, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Santa Monica, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Service, city and county prosecutors, and the state Attorney General’s office.
“These are not victimless crimes,” said L.A. Mayor Karen Bass. “No Angeleno should feel like it is not safe to go shopping in Los Angeles. No entrepreneur should feel like it’s not safe to open a business in Los Angeles.”
Videos of the crimes have outraged the community.
In at least four cases over the past two weeks, mobs ranging in size from around ten people to several dozen have raided stores in Glendale, Canoga Park, Hancock Park and, just Wednesday, a Gucci at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
In each case, the criminals overwhelm store employees and security -most of whom are trained not to physically intervene- and grab as many items as possible before fleeing.
Their hauls often exceed $100,000 since many of the stores are high-end retailers. Targets have also included Yves Saint Laurent and Nordstrom.
“These criminals use weapons or simulated weapons. They use intimidation techniques to take this merchandise,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi. “In each of these acts, they take a little bit away from our peace of mind, from our sense of safety in the community … We will not stand by idly while these acts continue, and neither will our law enforcement partners or the city.”
Leaders say the task force will not only focus on the people robbing retailers, but also those who purchase the stolen goods online.
What has led to this recent surge in retail thefts is, like many issues, a hotly debated political topic.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, a Republican, is among those who blame progressive policies that have led to reduced sentences for non-violent crimes and L.A. County’s controversial zero bail policy, which was recently upheld in court.
“No one mentioned today at the news conference held by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is how we got here in the first place,” Spitzer said in a scathing statement Thursday. “It is the inept and lax policies championed by the state Legislature and other elected officials like Mayor Bass and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon that has led to decriminalization, decarceration and zero bail, which has created this unrest and emboldened these organized crews not only in Los Angeles but permeates throughout Southern California.”
Former L.A. mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, a real estate developer who owns a shopping mall that was recently targeted by a mob, also blamed lax prosecution after Saturday’s ransacking of a Nordstrom at Westfield Topanga Mall.
“We need to be very clear with elected officials: we demand a better, more livable city. We demand [they] sit up, take note and change the laws and make sure that our District Attorney is prosecuting these cases,” Caruso said.
The issue of retail theft is not limited to Southern California.
On Wednesday, CHP announced the arrests of 50 people accused of participating in a smash-and-grab robbery in the Central Valley.