Expert: Show of force, key to vigilance in defending against organized theft in the retail trade

Fresno’s Fashion Fair Mall has been the scene of attempted thefts as well as gun-related incidents this year. An expert says that overloading security is the strongest option for store owners, even if it is expensive. Photo by Breanna Hardy

Organized retail theft has taken the form of flashmob-style thefts, which are widespread across the country and particularly in California. The Central Valley has plans to keep businesses safe and to be proactive against theft.

Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced his “real public safety plan,” which focuses on strengthening the local law enforcement response to gun violence and drugs. But the plan also designates funds to tackle organized theft in retail. Some $ 255 million in grants to local law enforcement over the next three years are aimed at increasing presence in retail stores and helping fight organized retail crime.

It will include a permanent Smash and Grab Enforcement unit, operated by the California Highway Patrol, which will target retail, car and rail thefts in major areas of the state, including the Central Valley.

The grant money will also help small businesses recover from the financial loss of large-scale theft.

Last month, Newsom ordered the CHP to increase its presence in high-traffic malls as a preventative measure against theft.

The California Retailers Association applauded Newsom for its efforts.

“ORC (Retail Organized Crime) is on the rise across the country and California is one of the hardest hit states. There is no easy fix to reverse this trend, but the Governor’s budget for retail theft is an important first step towards eliminating the ORC that has victimized our employees, customers and customers. communities we serve, ”said Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association.

Michelin said none of these expanded measures would be possible without the association’s partners in enforcing local laws.

“We are delighted to support the Governor’s Retail Flight Program and look forward to working towards its passage in the Legislature. We need to send a message to these thief networks that California will not tolerate organized crime, ”Michelin said.

The measure is an effort to make small businesses and customers feel secure, but opinions are divided on whether money is the solution.

Rocky Pipkin, CEO of Pipkin Detective Agency, said that in his humble opinion, this measure would not help.

Pipkin has worked as a private investigator since 1987 and consults with business owners on their loss prevention practices.

“It’s all about responsibility. And liability means if you’re going to rip someone off, you’re stealing something from them and there’s no consequence – that’s the problem, ”Pipkin said.

Proposition 47, approved by voters in 2014, has been widely blamed for the recent wave of large-scale thefts. The prop. 47 prevented petty theft from being charged as a felony. If the value of the stolen goods is less than $ 950, the felony is a misdemeanor and the jail term is minimal.

“In essence, they took the responsibility away from the crooks of having to spend time in jail, of having to do whatever they could to compensate their victims,” Pipkin said.

Pipkin said it was best for store workers not to interfere with a theft in order to keep people safe.

The solution, he says, is to invest in a security team, although he admits it’s expensive.

“People are worried, especially when you see what’s going on in some of the bigger cities. It’s actually happening to some extent here in the valley, but not as bad with the number of people rushing into the shops, ”Pipkin said.

He said it would be difficult to prevent this level of theft, but his suggestion for department stores or high-end retail stores would be to have increased security.

“You have to watch your parking lots, you have to watch people,” he said.

It’s important to look for the first signs of these thefts, such as when a person or group of people walk into the store to look around and leave quickly after spotting the items.

“A lot of people who work in retail can tell when someone is there to shoplift simply by their body movements, or they are there for some purpose other than finding a particular item.” , said Pipkin.

Small businesses don’t face the same level of threat as big box stores. But many jewelry stores, high-end retailers, or those with a lot of money are in danger.

Pipkin said law enforcement agencies in the Central Valley are very proactive, although it is difficult to put and keep these people in jail longer than it takes to get their fingerprints and save them.

“It’s about being vigilant and being open about everything and letting crooks know you’re taking precautionary measures,” he said.

In order for mall owners to be in their best shape while on vacation, they need to get their tenants together and make sure they know a safety plan.

Depending on the size and amount of traffic malls attract, property managers need to saturate premises with security.

But realistically, using this level of security is expensive, and vendors can’t afford it around the clock.

Gary Yervan, owner of The Vault Fine Jewelers in Fig Garden Village, said he was happy with the way the security team is monitoring the mall.

“The mall seems to be doing a good job on the security side,” Yervan said. “We are very grateful.”

He is very happy and says the customers seem to feel safe. Security members walk around the mall and have faster transportation on the property as well.

Fig Garden Village has been the victim of thefts in the past, most notably at its Lululemon store in 2018, which recorded a loss of $ 10,000 in sportswear.

Property managers at Fig Garden Village, Visalia Mall, Fashion Fair Mall and River Park Mall did not respond to questions about the organized retail theft.

But Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama sent a clear message this month that law enforcement will not tolerate crowd theft. The department launched its “Operation Christmas Presence” to prevent theft this holiday season – a partnership between the Fresno Police Department, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol.

Balderrama said there would be an increase in policing in shopping malls in a variety of ways, including undercover, by car, bicycle, motorbike and air assistance.

“You see it all over California. But we are ready, we will arrest you, we will hold you accountable. We will not allow crowds to rob our community, ”Balderrama said.


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