Los Angeles launching task force to address organized retail crime
Suspects in these types of crimes will be charged with robberies, police said.
Los Angeles is launching a new task force to address organized retail crime in the region, officials announced Thursday.
The task force will include multiple Southern California law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, as well as the U.S. Marshals Apprehension Task Force and Federal Bureau of Investigation Apprehension Task Force, the LA Mayor's Office said.
Among recent incidents of organized retail crime cited by police, more than 30 masked individuals stole more than $300,000 worth of merchandise from a Nordstrom in Canoga Park on Aug. 12, in a "flash rob"-style theft, LAPD said. One suspect sprayed bear spray on the face and body of a security guard, police said.
"What we've seen over just the past week in the City of Los Angeles and in surrounding regions is unacceptable, which is why today we are here announcing action," Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. "These are not victimless crimes -- especially in the case where Angelenos were attacked -- through force or fear-- as they did their jobs or ran errands."
The task force will feature 22 full-time investigators devoted to organized retail crime, according to Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher, the chief of detectives for LAPD.
The California Highway Patrol will "triple its resources" in Los Angeles to help address organized retail crime, according to the governor's office.
Bass said the task force will "aggressively investigate these incidents and hold individuals that are responsible for these crimes fully accountable."
Suspects involved in these types of crimes will be charged with robberies and held in jail, Pitcher said during a press briefing on Thursday when addressing whether the county's zero-cash bail policy will have any impact on the task force operation.
"If [the charge] does drop down to a grand theft, there are chances they may be released on bail, but we will be working with prosecutors very carefully to appropriately charge these individuals in each one of these cases to make sure that they are held to the greatest extent possible that we're allowed to do so by the law,'' Pitcher said.
From fall 2021 to Aug. 16, the L.A. County Sheriff's Office is aware of at least 170 organized retail thefts in its jurisdiction, which "include smash and grabs, flash mobs and grab and goes," Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters.
The task force will work with retailers on ways to enhance safety measures and deter these crimes, according to Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department Dominic Choi.
The task force will partner with prosecutors from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office and the California Attorney General's Office, officials said.
The National Retail Federation's most recent survey of retailers across the country reported a 26% jump in organized retail crime between 2000 and 2021, amounting to tens of billions of dollars in losses.