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A new generation of cheeky thieves are hitting California luxury retailers, sparking anger

The chaos began on Friday night when thieves smashed a Louis Vuitton storefront in Union Square in San Francisco and ransacked the store. Criminals also targeted a dozen nearby stores for theft and vandalism, police said, including a Burberry and Hermes store, as well as an eyewear store and cannabis dispensaries.

On Saturday night, the Nordstrom raid near Walnut Creek was even more daring: just before closing time, some 80 people jumped out of a bundle of cars, like a flash mob, and invaded the aisles, many escaping with goods. Two employees were assaulted, one of whom was sprayed with pepper.

And just after midnight Sunday, criminals used a sledgehammer to smash the windows of a Louis Vuitton and Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills, police said, but patrol cars arrived to scare off thieves before they did. cannot enter. On Monday evening, another group attempted to break into the Nordstrom of the Grove Mall in Los Angeles before leading police in a high-speed chase.

Organized theft in retail is nothing new. Over the past few years, rings have targeted Rolex watches, fine jewelry, and Apple products in several places.

But a weekend in which upscale stores in famous shopping districts were hit by large, seemingly sophisticated thieving rings has garnered national attention as the holiday shopping season begins and retailers are hoping buyers will finally return as the coronavirus crisis eases.

Governor Gavin Newsom described the incidents as “people crushing and grabbing, stealing things from people, creating havoc, terror in the streets”. Newsom said he is not speaking just as a governor, but as a business owner.

“My business has been robbed three times this year,” said Newsom, who owns a hotel business that includes wine shops and restaurants. “I have no empathy, no sympathy for these people, and they need to be held accountable.”

The reaction to the thefts has followed now familiar political lines, with some conservatives blaming California’s criminal justice reform policies.

But while the incidents have been terrifying for those caught in their midst, they do not indicate a massive increase in these crimes.

Thefts in 2021 are up 3.2% in Los Angeles from 2020, but are 14.1% lower than in 2019. In and around Union Square in San Francisco, thefts fell by nearly 5% from 2020 to 2021, while burglaries are down 2.3%.

Yet anarchy has sparked outrage in liberal San Francisco, with some keenly aware of the message it could send.

“What happens when people vandalize and commit this level of crime in San Francisco? We are not only losing these businesses, we are losing these jobs, ”the Mayor of London Breed told reporters. “We are losing this tax revenue that helps support our economy and helps support many social service programs that we have in the city in the first place. We cannot allow that to happen.

Newsom said the state would be more aggressive in helping to catch and prosecute retail theft rings, and allocate more money for the job in next year’s budget.

He praised the success of the state’s task force on retail crime, which it re-established in July amid criticism of its criminal justice record and a recall campaign that l ‘ridiculed as’ soft on crime’.

Newsom said the task force conducted 773 investigations and recovered nearly $ 20 million in stolen goods.

The California Highway Patrol would immediately increase its presence “in and around high traffic areas” as the holiday shopping season peaks, the governor added.

Greg Totten, executive director of the California District Attorneys Assn., Said most shoplifting cases can only be charged as misdemeanors, although it is clear that organized retail theft is at work.

“There are now huge hurdles to overcome to demonstrate that it reaches the level of organized retail theft,” Totten said. “These poor retailers are suffering. We’re not just talking about department stores and luxury retailers, but small businesses. “

LAPD captain Jonathan Tippet, who heads the department’s robbery and homicide division, said it appeared there were several groups committing such robberies, some of them inspired social media imitators.

He said thieves targeting high-end stores were encouraged by the perception that criminal penalties have come down. “They find it to be a lucrative business, with consequences they don’t think are so bad,” Tippet said.

Tippet said this was a trend seen by the LAPD, along with home thefts and street robberies. “Sooner or later someone is going to get shot and killed,” Tippet said.

While Los Angeles as a whole has not seen an increase in thefts, some neighborhoods have been hit hard. In the Wilshire division, which includes much of the trendy Melrose Avenue retail corridor, there has been a 20% increase in thefts since 2020.

Beverly Hills Police launched a controversial crackdown on Rodeo Drive last year after shopkeepers complained about the rise in crime.

The effort is now the subject of a lawsuit alleging that the police deliberately targeted black buyers. Ninety people were arrested during the crackdown. Documents obtained by the Times showed that 80 of them were black, four were Latinos, three were white, two were Asian and one was classified as “other”.

Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Assn., Said this weekend’s flights dominated discussions in the industry.

“A week ago I would have said it was the supply chain and the ports, and now it’s the big one,” Michelin said. “I’ve heard from lawmakers, I’ve heard from the governor’s office. … It’s frustrating because we’ve kind of sounded the death knell for this to be a growing problem in California.

She said she was working with lawmakers to target the online marketplace where stolen items are bought and sold. “We have to close where they can sell these items,” Michelin said. “If you see some of these products being sold for really low prices, they are probably stolen.”

Rick Caruso, a major developer in Los Angeles whose malls include the Grove, said in an interview hours before the incident at his mall that retail robberies should be taken seriously.

“As soon as you say, ‘We’re going to tolerate a certain level of crime,’ you send a signal to the criminals to test the system,” Caruso said. “The more successful they are, the more emboldened they become.”

So far, three people have been arrested in connection with the thefts at Walnut Creek Nordstrom. Police said they were examining surveillance footage to identify other culprits.

In the case of the Louis Vuitton raid in San Francisco, the video shows a man running around the store with loads of clothes pressed to his chest. Nearby, police ran to an apparently fleeing car and pounded it with batons, ultimately shooting an occupant and making an arrest.

At least eight people have been arrested, and surveillance footage is expected to lead to further arrests.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said the city is adjusting traffic patterns near high-end stores so thieves can’t just park outside, commit a crime and jump in the car. leak. He said he would also put enough officers in vulnerable areas to prevent a crowd from overwhelming the security of the store.

“We’re going to do everything we can to stop this madness,” Scott said.

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