CHP’s retail theft team nabs 5  

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Organized retail theft seen as growing problem throughout the state as police increase focus 

California Highway Patrol officers Thursday touted five arrests and their recovery of more than $60,000 in goods during a recent operation. 

The CHP Southern Division’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force is working to address a problem that law enforcement officials have identified as growing in areas throughout the state: organized retail theft. 

A Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station official also discussed the increased efforts of local deputies to try to stem the trending crime, which have also included a task force approach and increasing the station’s cooperation with local business owners. 

CHP arrests 

On Monday, officers in the CHP’s Newhall area were contacted to assist the agency’s relatively recently formed retail crime task force in a series of arrests, according to Officer Josh Greengard, spokesman for the CHP’s Newhall area office. The task force has been working to address the problem for more than 18 months, he added.  

While the crime originated out of the area, local officers were contacted to help track down the suspects’ getaway vehicles, which they ultimately did just north of Castaic. 

Five theft suspects entered a Lululemon store in Studio City through a back entrance at 1:37 p.m. Monday, wearing face masks and carrying trash bags, according to a CHP statement. 

“They loaded the trash bags full of clothing products and fled after approximately one minute,” according to the release shared by the Public Information Office for the Southern Division. “The suspects fled the location in a Nissan Rogue and Kia Sportage. CHP investigators coordinated traffic stops on the vehicles on I-5 northbound, in the city of Lebec, where all five suspects were taken into custody.” 

The suspects were four men and a woman, per the release: Joshua Butler, 30, of Oakland; Javon Jones, 31, of San Francisco; Malik Jefferson, 23, of Brentwood; Adam Carpenter, 33, of Pittsburg; and Tiana Scales, 21, of Antioch. 

All five individuals were arrested on suspicion of organized retail theft and grand theft. 

Cite and release 

One of the challenges in addressing this type of theft has been the relative lack of punishment for those arrested, according to SCV Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez. 

The charge facing such suspects, either a petty theft, or, if the value of lost/stolen property exceeds $950, grand theft, is no longer significant enough to hold an individual in custody, he said.  

“Either way, both of them are nonviolent crimes and, by the book, would be cited out,” Diez said. He also said now a suspect who’s booked at the station on such a crime could be released within about five hours. Even if the person is on bail or probation at the time of the subsequent arrest, it’s unlikely, based on current county policies, a suspect would be held past their preliminary arraignment, he added. 

But Diez also repeated a sentiment he’s shared before: Any apparent changes in prosecutorial priorities won’t influence how local deputies plan to aggressively pursue those who violate the law in the SCV. 

“Regardless of what the District Attorney’s Office does with any arrests, we’re going to continue actively pursuing violators,” Diez said, adding the city-supported Crime Prevention Unit works with the station’s Detective Bureau to look at data and determine the most effective ways to catch thieves. 

Retail task force 

Taking a step like that taken by the CHP, Sheriff Robert Luna also convened a task force to further the regional approach, recognizing that the thieves were working as organized teams going up and down the state.  

Diez said through this task force, detectives with the Major Crimes Bureau also have helped in local operations where thieves were arrested and goods recovered. 

“We have worked with Dick’s quite a bit,” Diez said, adding that several stores in that area have been targeted by thieves, including the Sam’s Club and the Walmart. The station has had a Coffee with a Cop there, he said, and a patrol car regularly can be seen parked in the area.  

“I know that there’s definitely an issue at Dick’s, an issue at Target, an issue at some of our supermarkets, (such as) Ralphs, an issue at Macy’s — a lot of our big box retailers have had issues with organized retail theft.”  

He distinguished between the type of mob activity recently reported in Torrance where a flash mob of hundreds, seemingly recruited on social media, took over a store versus what’s usually seen locally — small teams of thieves who frequently victimize a number of stores driving up and down regional freeways. 

Deputies work with plainclothes detectives and the cooperation of the retailer for their operations, Diez said, and that he’s asked his special teams to continue the operations for at least the “foreseeable future.” 

Those suspects who are found to be committing burglaries of a more serial nature are now being investigated with the help of additional resources from special teams throughout the department, he added. 

Growing trend 

Within about six hours of Diez’s interview with The Signal on Thursday afternoon, Dick’s Sporting Goods on Carl Boyer Drive was hit again by a group of suspects, according to a report verified Friday by station officials. 

For the third time in as many weeks, the suspects fled the scene before deputies’ arrival. 

Data from the Public Policy Institute of California, which was shared with the Assembly’s Select Committee on Retail Theft in December, indicates the spread of such crime isn’t ubiquitous, but rather seemingly focused on counties with larger populations, while counties with smaller populations have seen decreases in such crimes. 

Commercial robberies increased in nine of the 15 largest counties in 2022 compared to 2019. After rising 13% between 2019 and 2022, the state’s largest county, Los Angeles, had the highest commercial robbery rate in 2022, according to the PPIC data. 

“Beginning with a statewide overview of the last decade or so, shoplifting remains 8% below pre-pandemic levels, despite a 29% jump in 2022 from 2019,” according to Magnus Lofstrom, PPIC policy director and senior fellow. “However, both commercial burglary and robbery have been ticking up: by 16% and 13% in 2022, compared to 2019.” 

The crime numbers also indicate retailers are increasingly the target, with shoplifting trending up in L.A. County and other urban areas, according to the data. 

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