Two undercover police officers dressed as Santa Claus and his elf stopped two suspected car thieves and thee suspected shoplifters outside a Riverside, California, shopping center Thursday.
Riverside Police Department's Property Crimes Unit, assisted by officers from the School Resource Officer Unit, conducted a holiday enforcement program -- which they're calling "Santa's Intervention" -- targeting retail theft during the holidays, the police department wrote on Facebook.
On Thursday, detectives and loss prevention specialists conducted video surveillance inside the Target store in the Canyon Springs shopping center as other detectives and officers remained outside to help detain any suspected thieves.
Of those waiting outside were a detective and officer dressed as Santa Claus and his elf. At one point, they received information about three suspicious men attempting to steal vehicles in the parking lot. One of the undercover detectives saw the suspects trying to steal an older white Honda CR-V. Two of the men tried to flee the scene after spotting the officers, but were quickly apprehended.
"One suspect resisted arrest but was taken into custody with the help of our undercover Santa, and the second was detained by the undercover elf," police wrote on Facebook.
The third suspect drove stole off in the stolen Honda before police could reach him. The car was later found abandoned nearby and the driver was not located, but detectives have him identified and will be making an arrest for car theft in the future, they said. They also included a photo of the suspect in their Facebook post.
One of the two suspects detained was later released, while the other was arrested for possession of illegal drugs and resisting arrest, police said.
"Changes in property crime laws within the recent years have contributed to increases in retail theft and shoplifting," Detective Everth Bercian of the Property Crimes Unit, said in the statement. "Theft of merchandise totaling less than $950 is only a misdemeanor, and any arrest made whether it's a felony or misdemeanor, results in little to no consequences for these crimes."
Also on Thursday, undercover police outside the Canyon Springs shopping center arrested three suspects who attempted to shoplift.
One misdemeanor arrest involved a woman who walked out of the store with a shopping cart full of stolen items. She was also found to be in possession of illegal narcotics, police said. Another misdemeanor arrest involved a man who had previously stolen items from the store. Loss prevention specialists and officers recognized him as he entered the store and stopped him before he could steal again. He was arrested for trespassing and being in possession of illegal narcotics.
The third person Santa and his elf arrested was Patrick Seilsopour, 55. He was booked into jail for grand theft after trying to steal Lego toy sets totaling $1,000, police said. Due to the current bail schedules for "non-violent" offenses, however, he was quickly released with a "Notice to Appear." Police believe he has committed similar retail thefts at several other Target stores in the region.