By City News Service
The Burbank Police Department has partnered with law enforcement agencies across Los Angeles County establishing a task force to investigate, apprehend and prosecute suspects who have committed retail theft as businesses grapple with an uptick of smash-and-grabs in recent weeks.
In a press conference Thursday morning, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced the Organized Retail Crimes Task Force that will focus on retail crimes across the county. The task force will include detectives and investigators from the Burbank Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Glendale Police Department, Beverly Hills Police Department, Santa Monica Police Department, U.S. Marshals Apprehension Task Force and Federal Bureau of Investigation Task Force.
Prosecutors from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, Los Angeles city attorney’s office and the California attorney general’s office will join the task force as well to ensure suspects are prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law,” according to Bass.
“What we’ve seen over just the past week in the city of Los Angeles and in the surrounding regions is unacceptable, which is why today we are here announcing action,” Bass said. “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.”
“No Angelenos should feel like it’s unsafe to go shopping and no Angelenos should feel like it’s unsafe to open a business in Los Angeles or Los Angeles County,” she added.
Bass emphasized that if “someone commits a crime, we’ll catch you.”
The Southland has been subject to an increasing number of retail thefts by large groups of suspects targeting retail locations. The suspects often target specific malls with high-end merchandise, according to a statement from the LAPD.
Suspects grab a large quantity of merchandise often using tools to break glass display cases and cut security cords — or smash-and-grabs. According to a statement from LAPD, each incident has resulted in several hundreds of thousands of dollars loss to retailers.
“Each of these acts takes away from our piece of mind or our sense of our security when we want to go out and do shopping in retail communities,” LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi said during the press conference in City Hall. “The Los Angeles Police Department will not tolerate these acts. We will not stand by idly while these acts continue.”
The task force will be led by the LAPD’s Commercial Crimes Division and will respond in an “organized manner, day and night, and seven days a week with the full scope of investigative resources to provide evidence for successful filing and prosecutions,” Choi said.
Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher, who is also the chief of detectives for LAPD and oversees investigations throughout the city of Los Angeles, said his partner Cmdr. Jay Mastick will oversee the day-to-day operations of the task force.
The task force will include 22 assigned full-time investigators and follow up on “any available lead.” There will be three separate surveillance and apprehension teams working with the task force, as well.
“We’re going to house this task force out of the (San Fernando) Valley, since the majority of these incidents have occurred in the San Fernando Valley in the west portion of the city of Los Angeles,” Pitcher said.
The task force will establish a tip line and method for individuals to submit digital media with pertinent information to these crimes.
Pitcher addressed some concerns that were brought to his attention regarding the county’s Zero-Cash Bail policy. He reassured that those suspects involved in smash-and-grabs will be charged with robberies and be held in jail.
“If (the charge) does drop down to a grand theft, there are changes 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.
L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna said these smash-and-grabs are not new, and his department has been dealing with these issues for about more than a year. Luna emphasized his deputies and investigators have done their best to respond to the almost 170 organized retail thefts in the county’s jurisdiction.
He also emphasized that this task force will come after everyone involved in the chain of the crime, including those who assist these smash-and-grabs crimes and purchase the stolen merchandise.
“We have a united front and we are going to respond. We are going to investigate. We’re going to turn over the best case that we can to the district attorney’s office or whoever else we have to and ensure that people get held accountable,” Luna said.
First published in the August 19 print issue of the Burbank Leader.