A looting gang have targeted an LA Nordstrom, making off with eight luxury handbags and assaulting a cop – the latest in a string of smash-and-grab raids to plague California.
Five people, one wearing an orange wig, entered the open store in Canoga Park shortly before 7pm on Wednesday and sprayed a security guard with ‘some kind of chemical’ in front of terrified shoppers, police said.
The thieves sped off and managed to escape with thousands of dollars worth of handbags despite multiple police cruisers, as well as fire trucks and ambulances, responding to the raid.
It is the eighth smash-and-grab robbery in California in the last week where thieves have made off with tens of thousands of dollars in luxury goods, amid soft misdemeanor theft laws in the Democrat-run state.
Around 20 robbers smashed their way into a Nordstrom at The Grove retail complex in LA on Monday night, making off with $5,000 worth of merchandise; and a CVS pharmacy in the city was struck just an hour later, where looters stole $8,000 from a cash register.
Law enforcement say that mercenary thieves are being recruited for up to $1,000 to steal the expensive goods which are then shipped across state lines and sold on the internet. The sophisticated method makes it harder for cops to track the criminals.
The thieves sped off and managed to escape despite multiple police cruisers, as well as fire trucks and ambulances, responding to the raid (pictured: cop cars outside the Nordstrom in Canoga Park on Wednesday night)
A police car outside the Nordstrom on Wednesday night after thieves made off with around eight luxury handbags
Monday’s brazen thefts in Los Angeles come after three consecutive days of organized shoplifting in the Bay Area
San Francisco has seen a dramatic increase in crime rates across the board, particularly in larceny thefts
California Governor Gavin Newsom vowed on Monday to get tough with organized gangs of thieves who have ransacked and looted luxury retail stores in the San Francisco Bay Area
The latest string of robberies in The Golden State started last Friday in San Francisco and are ratcheting up as the holiday shopping season is getting into full swing.
In Santa Rosa, four young men ran into an Apple Store Wednesday morning and fled with $20,000 in goods, police said.
Police in Palo Alto announced Wednesday that two women had been arrested in connection with a Sunday night attempt to steal items from the RealReal clothing boutique downtown.
California’s Proposition 47 – lighter sentences for thieves
Proposition 47 was passed by California voters on November 5, 2014.
It made some ‘non-violent’ property crimes, where the value of the stolen goods does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors.
It also made some ‘simple’ drug possession offenses into misdemeanors, and allows past convictions for these charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor by a court.
Under California law, though, if two or more person’s conspire to ‘cheat and defraud any person or any property, by any means which are in themselves criminal’ they can face no more than one year in county prison, a fine of $10,000 or a combination of the two.
Police said 30 to 40 people arrived in some 20 cars and tried to break down the glass front door but it held. A security guard reported the effort and the crowd fled as police arrived.
The women were stopped in a car where police said they found at least $15,000 in clothes from a second RealReal location that was burglarized in Larkspur earlier that night.
Meanwhile, five people pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges involving thefts in San Francisco.
Nine people have been charged in connection with Friday night attacks on stores including Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s in the downtown area and in Union Square, a posh shopping district popular with tourists that was teeming with holiday shoppers.
Ben Dugan, president of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, said: ‘We’re not talking about someone who needs money or needs food. These are people who go out and do this is for high profit, and for the thrill.’
Other major US cities have also seen a spike in store break-ins, including Chicago and its suburbs, where more than a dozen suspects attacked a Louis Vuitton store last week and stole more than $120,000 worth of high-end clothing and other merchandise.
Aside from the organized crime rings, the growing problem has been attributed to police officers’ apparent reluctance to pursue retail criminals in the current political climate, prosecutors’ failure to prioritize larceny and theft, and the decriminalization of low-level offenses in some jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, two progressive criminal justice experts suggested the news media and law enforcement officials should stop using the term ‘looting’ to describe the brazen store robberies, arguing that the term is racist.
Lorenzo Boyd, a professor of criminal justice & community policing at the University of New Haven, and Martin Reynolds, co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute of Journalism Education, urged news outlets to refer to the crimes as ‘organized smash-and-grabs.’
Boyd and Martin’s remarks immediately opened the floodgates of mockery on Twitter, with critics on the right mercilessly pillorying the ‘woke’ experts.
Conservative activist and former convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza tweeted: ‘Experts refuse to call a spade a spade, unless, of course, it’s a spade wielded by a white male.’
Ex-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker compared it to the language used in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin: ‘It’s looting. Just like there were riots in Kenosha, not just protests.’
Best Buy CEO Corie Berry said this week that the situation has become so dire that her company is stepping up security measures to protect its staff and shoppers.
‘This is traumatizing for our associates and is unacceptable,’ Barry said on a call with analysts on Tuesday. ‘We are doing everything we can to try to create [an] as safe as possible environment.’
A day earlier, California Gov Gavin Newsom vowed to crack down on gangs of retail thieves, despite a controversial 2014 law – Proposition 47 – that barred prosecutors from charging suspected shoplifters accused of stealing less than $950 worth of merchandise with felonies.
A group of about 40 to 50 teenage shoplifters made off with an unknown amount of jewelry and other items in Hayward, California, on Sunday. Experts and officials say national crime networks are behind many of the ‘smash-and-grab ‘ operations
A suspect was seen running away with an armful of merchandise after stealing from a Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square on Friday night
Los Angeles police say at least 20 people used sledgehammers to break the glass at a Nordstrom on Monday night and ransack its shelves before fleein
‘For the low-level criminal, the benefit far outweighs the risk, since the threshold for a misdemeanor offense is $950, meaning that a person can steal up to that amount and only be charged with a misdemeanor,’ Lynda Buel, president of Ohio-based security consulting firm SRMC, told CNN.
‘People see the ability to commit these ‘smash-and-grab incidents’ knowing that there is little consequence, especially if the thefts are kept below the threshold of a felony offense,’ Buel added. ‘It’s easy, it’s fast, and the payback is good.’
Over the weekend, the San Francisco Bay Area saw a string of audacious ‘smash-and-grab’ robberies, including an incident involving a gaggle of hammer-wielding masked bandits who ransacked jewelry, sunglasses and clothing stores at the Southland Mall in the San Jose suburb of Hayward.
Dramatic footage released on Monday showed a group of about 40 to 50 robbers smashing glass display cases at Sam’s Jewelers at the mall at around 5.30pm on Sunday. Staffers are seen screaming in terror as the heist unfolded.
Around the same time on Sunday evening, packs of thieves ransacked a sunglasses store and a Lululemon store in San Jose, stealing nearly $50,000 in merchandise, San Jose police Sgt. Christian Camarillo said Monday.
The group that targeted the Lululemon store included two women and two men, including one who had a ‘visible gun in his waistband,’ he added.
On Saturday, police said as many as 80 suspects, some wearing ski masks and carrying crowbars, targeted a Nordstrom in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek, assaulting employees and stealing merchandise before fleeing in waiting cars, police and witnesses said.
Two employees were assaulted and one was hit with pepper spray during what police called a ‘clearly a planned event.’ Walnut Creek police said they arrested two suspects and recovered a gun.
A day prior, roving bands of thieves brandishing hammers and crowbars hit a string of high-end retailers, including Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Bloomingdales, as well as a Walgreens pharmacy and several marijuana dispensaries, in the vicinity of Union Square in San Francisco, a high-end area popular with tourist that was crowded with holiday shoppers.
Videos of the chaotic scene posted on social media by witnesses showed police officers dragging one suspect from a waiting car and people running with merchandise in their arms or dragging suitcases.
The ‘smash-and-grab’ operations are usually organized by local people who recruit their crews and send them to steal specific merchandise requested by criminal organizations throughout the country, Dugan said.
‘Crew bosses organize them, they’ll give him the crowbars, and in some cases even rent them cars, or provide them with escape routes or a list of products to actually go out and steal. It looks very chaotic but it’s actually very well organized,’ Dugan said.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in September that large-scale store thefts orchestrated by organized crime rings are costing retailers across the US an estimated $45billion in annual losses.
Raoul has formed the Organized Retail Crime Task Force comprised of public and private entities to tackle the problem head on.
‘These brazen, violent crimes are committed by sophisticated criminal organizations that are involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and other serious crimes,’ Raoul said.
‘Even during the looting we saw last year, we came to understand that some of these criminal acts were not merely opportunistic, but organized in advance,’ he said.
‘The Organized Retail Crime Task Force will allow investigators and prosecutors in my office to better collaborate with our law enforcement partners and ensure cooperation between law enforcement, as well as retailers and online marketplaces, to protect communities, consumers and combat the rise in retail crime.’
Police were able to pursue one of the getaway cars, which had fled onto the 110 Freeway
The robbery (not pictured) occurred at 7pm on the eve of Thanksgiving and left a security guard injured.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said his office met with retailers over the weekend who asked for more police patrols.
‘You will see substantially more starting today, in and around areas that are highly trafficked and coming into the holiday season Black Friday in shopping malls,’ he told reporters Monday at an event in San Francisco.
He said the California Highway Patrol immediately stepped up patrols along nearby highway corridors following the thefts this weekend and asked local officials how they could help.
In July, Newsom signed a law that allows prosecutors to charge those who work with others to steal merchandise. He said this year’s state budget included millions of dollars for local officials to address retail theft and his January budget proposal will include an “exponential increase of support to help cities and counties.’
‘My business has been broken into three times this year,’ he said. ‘I have no empathy, no sympathy for these folks, and they must be held to account.’ Newsom owns two wine shops in San Francisco.
Most of the ‘smash-and-grabs’ had been happening in stores near highways in suburbs where police response can be slower. But last year, the packs of robbers took advantage of BLM protests following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and ransacked stores in several cities, including San Francisco, Dugan said.
‘It was meant to look like looting, but it really wasn’t. It´s a criminal entity employing other people to steal for them so they can profit by selling it online,’ he said.
Retailers lose about $65billion each year to organized theft, the bulk stolen by professional thieves.
OAK BROOK, ILLINOIS: Surveillance footage from inside a Louis Vuitton store showed masked shoplifters, top right, pour into the store and grab handfuls of merchandise as customers ran away last week
The National Retail Federation said a recent survey found stores are seeing an increase in organized thefts and perpetrators being more aggressive.
On Tuesday, Best Buy’s shares fell 16 per cent after the nation’s largest consumer electronics retail chain posted a drop in profit for the fiscal quarter, citing organized theft – especially in San Francisco.
Best Buy CEO Corie Barry warned that businesses are in danger in the San Francisco area due to rampant looting
‘We are definitely seeing more and more particularly organized retail crime and incidents of shrink in our locations,’ Barry, the company’s CEO, told analysts. ‘This is a real issue that hurts and scares real people.’
Barry warned that employees could start quitting their jobs, rather than face the threat of hammer- and crowbar-wielding thieves terrorizing stores in California with relative impunity due to lax shoplifting laws.
Best Buy’s top executive said the company is hiring security guards and keeping more products under lock and key.
Experts said state laws raising the threshold for what constitutes a felony and the ease of reselling stolen goods online are contributing to the increase in brash robberies.
Following Friday’s thefts, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said officers arrested six men and two women, all young adults, and seized two guns and two vehicles. They are mostly residents of the Bay Area and some are known to San Francisco police, Scott said, adding that he expects more suspects will be arrested in the coming days.
Car access to the streets in Union Square will soon be limited and the area will be flooded with police officers, Scott said.
‘We will do what we need to do to put an end to this madness,’ Scott said at a news conference Saturday.