Holiday ‘Smash and Grab’ Thefts Alarm Retailers

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Nordstrom San Francisco. Photo by Hades1981 via Flickr

As the holiday shopping season approaches, a string of “smash-and-grab” robberies have hit luxury retailers in California and Illinois, leaving authorities shocked by the brazen nature of the thefts that have involved sometimes dozens of people at a time, reports Reuters.

Videos from the chaotic burglaries have flooded social media in recent days, showing masked figures breaking into stores, running out with bags of merchandise, and fleeing in cars idling outside. The San Francisco Bay Area has been particularly hard hit given the high density of luxury retailers.

On Tuesday, the impact of shoplifting reached Wall Street, with Best Buy Co. shares plunging after the electronics retailer said widespread theft contributed to a decrease in one gauge of profitability. Last month, Walgreens said it would close five San Francisco stores after theft rates there spiked, Bloomberg reports.

Organized retail crime costs retailers on average $700,000 per $1 billion in sales every year, according to the National Retail Federation. Another industry group, Buy Safe America, estimates that crime results in billions of dollars in lost economic activity each year.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has directed the California Highway Patrol to increase their presence near major retail areas. Experts on retail crime say the rise of organized crime before the holiday season is not a new phenomenon, but it has gotten more aggressive in recent years, in part because retailers have enhanced their security measures.

Criminals may have also been emboldened by the passage of laws lessening penalties for some crimes, such as California’s Proposition 47, which reclassified certain felony offenses as misdemeanors in 2014.

The Los Angeles Times reports that San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin has charged nine people with felonies in a series of shoplifting incidents. Boudin said two of the nine people were charged for possession of firearms and that all nine nine face charges of grand theft, commercial burglary and possession of stolen goods at the felony level.

San Francisco Assistant Police Chief Mike Redmond announced that extra uniformed officers will be deployed to shopping areas and a traffic plan put in place “to keep cars out of the area if we see things ramp up downtown.”

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said he is also placing enough officers in such areas to prevent a mob of 40 or 50 people from overwhelming store security, as happened last week

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