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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California cops get hundreds of millions to combat retail theft

Law enforcement officials said the money could go toward overtime, more police walking a beat, and plainclothes officers.

(CN) — The viral videos show thieves brazenly smashing windows and stealing from stores.

In other videos, people quickly grab items from store shelves, pushing them into a bag before walking away.

It’s a trend California law enforcement agencies hope to curb with $267 million in state grants to police and sheriff’s departments, district attorney’s offices and probation departments. The agencies, which applied for the grants, learned this week they were recipients.

“This grant will allow us to do more,” said San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott in a Friday press conference. “It’s really time to try to put an end to this as much as we can.”

Law enforcement agencies in 55 cities and counties across the state were recommended to receive millions of dollars in grants. Forty-one sheriff's and police departments, and one probation office, could receive over $23 million each. Thirteen district attorney’s offices could get over $2 million each. The money would go toward more staffing for retail theft units, advanced surveillance technology, training and new task forces.

The state will distribute the funds annually over the next three years.

Scott said his department is short some 600 officers. His grant funding, an expected $15.3 million, will pay for overtime, as well as cops walking a beat and plainclothes officers.

“There’s just not enough of us to do more and we need to do more,” he said.

Scott said he recently spoke to people at 2 a.m. in the Tenderloin District. Some of them, he believes, were selling items taken in retail thefts. One person told him they feed their drug addiction through those sales.

“That story can be repeated over and over again,” he said.

Los Angeles County Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco said her office learned Thursday it would receive almost $16 million in grants. Her county has seen a rise in retail thefts, with thieves targeting malls with high-end merchandise.

Francisco said thieves will break a store’s glass wall and flee with items. Others have used bear and pepper spray to fend off officers and cause chaos.

“It’s unacceptable for the residents to feel apprehensive about shopping in their communities,” she said.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said viral videos showing retail theft have contributed to business closings. She’s using her office’s grant to have a prosecutor and investigator dedicated to retail thefts.

“As we know, this is a situation we must address,” she said.

Sean Duryee, commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, called organized retail crime a serious issue that’s not limited to only large, urban areas like the San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles and San Diego. He called the $267 in state grant funding a sizable investment and an opportunity to strengthen partnerships between law enforcement agencies.

That work began years before the grant dollars were awarded. Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019 created the Organized Retail Theft Task Force, which has led to the recovery of $30.7 million in stolen merchandise, over 1,850 investigations and the arrest of over 1,250 people statewide.

The grants give law enforcement agencies, understaffed throughout the nation, more resources to advance their fight against retail theft.

In a statement, Newsom said the 2023-24 budget has over $800 million in funds — including the $267 million in grants — for multiple programs for improving public safety and focusing on retail crime.

“Enough with these brazen smash-and-grabs,” Newsom said. “With an unprecedented $267 million investment, Californians will soon see more takedowns, more police, more arrests, and more felony prosecutions. “When shameless criminals walk out of stores with stolen goods, they’ll walk straight into jail cells.”

Categories / Criminal, Government, Regional

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