Police in Los Angeles have announced 14 arrests in connection with 11 recent smash-and-grab robberies at stores where nearly $340,000 worth of merchandise was stolen, but all the suspects have been released.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that most of the accused robbers suspected of ransacking businesses between November 18 and 28 bailed out or met no-bail criteria, and one is a juvenile.
At a joint news conference on Thursday announcing the arrests, both Moore and Mayor Eric Garcetti called for an end to a no-bail policy for some defendants aimed at reducing overcrowding at Los Angeles County jails during the coronavirus pandemic.
Garcetti said with the pandemic easing, it’s time to make room again in lockups for criminals who commit violent acts and put store employees in danger.
LA Police Chief Michel Moore, right, pictured shaking hands of Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday, told reporters that the 14 suspects who had been arrested in smash-and-grab thefts at stores have been released because of the county’s ‘zero bail’ policy
Garcetti called for an end to a no-bail policy for criminals who endanger store employees
This map shows the locations of some of the major smash-and-grab robberies that took place in California between November 19 and December 2
Los Angeles police say at least 20 people used sledgehammers to break the glass at a Nordstrom on November 22 and ransack its shelves before fleeing
A group of about 40 to 50 teenage shoplifters made off with an unknown amount of jewelry and other items in Hayward, California, in November
‘We need the help of our criminal justice system, of our judges, of our jailers,’ Garcetti said. ‘We have opened up a lot of the city because we’re in a better place with COVID. We should be able to also open up our jails, and we should be able to have judges that put people behind those bars.’
Security experts and officials agree that organized crime networks are responsible for many of the large-scale ‘smash-and-grab’ retail thefts, with syndicates recruiting young, low-level crooks and paying them $500 to $1,000 to steal specific items for resale online.
In one case, federal prosecutors said 70-year-old Robert Whitley, from Atlanta, hired recovering drug addicts to steal more than 140,000 items from stores like Target, CVS and Publix, which he then resold on Amazon, netting $3.5million in profit, reported the New York Times.
Whitley pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and was sentenced in October to nearly six years in prison.
A smash-and-grab robbery took place on Thursday in San Jose, where four masked suspects used hammers to smash display cases at Quick Service Jewelry Design (pictured)
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.
On the day of the press conference in LA, yet another flash mob-style robbery took place in San Jose, where police says four masked suspects brandishing hammers barged into Quick Service Jewelry Design inside the Eastridge Mall, smashed display cases and ran off with their loot.
Just hours before the latest heist, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed that the coronavirus pandemic was ‘a root cause’ of the crimes.
In California, a statewide policy of imposing $0 bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies ended last year, but it was kept in place within the LA County Superior Court system.
‘You could be arrested for a crime such as burglary, a serious felony… and that’s zero bail, meaning that we book and process and identify you, and then your arraignment day is three to four months from now,’ Moore said.
LAPD’s top cop said at least $338,000 in goods were stolen over ten days from stores and malls across the city that incurred $40,000 in property damage. Investigators are searching for multiple outstanding suspects, he said.
The brazen heists were part of a rash of organized retail crime in California and across the nation in which groups of individuals shoplift en masse from stores or smash and grab from display cases.
Moore said he was confident that police investigating the retail robberies had the support of progressive Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, who ran on a reform agenda and supports ending bail across the board for misdemeanor, non-violent and non-serious felony offenses.
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 month
Gascón’s office said in a statement Thursday that those who commit smash-and-grab thefts will be held accountable.
‘Our office has been collaborating with multiple law enforcement agencies and once all the evidence has been gathered, we will review the cases to determine what criminal charges should be filed,’ Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascón, said in the statement. ‘These brazen acts hurt all of us: retailers, employees and customers alike.’
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin last week announced felony charges against nine people for a series of thefts, and Bay Area prosecutors announced a joint effort to combat organized retail theft.
In the Bay Area, the City Council in Walnut Creek this week approved an additional $2million for policing after nearly 100 thieves wearing ski masks carried out a smash-and-grab mob robbery at a Nordstrom store in late November. An estimated $125,000 in merchandise was stolen.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has boasted of his criminal justice reform efforts, promised on Wednesday that the proposed budget he sends to state lawmakers next month will ‘significantly increase our efforts to go after these retail rings,’ despite a controversial 2014 law – Proposition 47 – that bars prosecutors from charging suspected shoplifters accused of stealing less than $950 worth of merchandise with felonies.
Thieves are caught in the act of ransacking an Apple store in Santa Rose in November. Security experts say national crime networks are behind many of the flash mob-style heists
‘We need to break up these crime rings, and we need to make an example out of these folks,’ Newsom said last month. ‘We cannot allow this to continue.’
There were 7,542 robberies in Los Angeles this year through November 27, the LAPD’s most recent data indicate, which represents a 3.9 per cent increase from the 7,258 robberies reported the same time last year.
Garcetti sought to calm the nerves of LA residents hoping to shop at stores and malls for the holiday season, saying that the relatively small number of crimes is ‘no cause for alarm.’
‘We’re acting fast to stop this in its tracks,’ he said.
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 month and stole more than $120,000 worth of high-end clothing and other merchandise.
White House Press Secretary on Thursday said the pandemic was a ‘root cause’ of crime when asked about the surge in smash-and-grab raids around the country in recent weeks
Retailers lose about $65billion each year to organized theft, the bulk stolen by professional thieves.
The National Retail Federation said a recent survey found stores are seeing an increase in organized thefts and perpetrators being more aggressive.
White House Press Secretary Paski was asked about crime and attacks on police officers during her daily briefing on Thursday, and whether President Joe Biden still thought the pandemic was to blame.
‘I think many people have conveyed that and also one of the … root causes of crime in communities is guns and gun violence,’ she said. ‘And we’ve seen that statistically around the country.’