LASD receives $15.7M grant to stop smash-and-grab robberies
"We will not only focus on individuals responsible for the thefts, but also those in getaway cars and those selling the stolen items," Sheriff Luna said
By Steve Scauzillo
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, West Covina, Calif.
LOS ANGELES — In order to clamp down on brazen "smash-and-grab" robberies, Los Angeles County law enforcement needs more resources, both to catch the criminals and to prevent future crimes from occurring at department and luxury stores, as well as mom-and-pop retail shops.
That was the conclusion reached by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, which on Tuesday, Sept. 26, authorized the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to use a $15.7 million state grant given to the county earlier this month. The Sheriff's Department can use the money for detectives' and deputies' overtime and training; buying vehicles and equipment; and providing outreach to businesses, the county reported.
"Given the increasing frequency in which such thefts are occurring, it is important to accept the funds as soon as possible and begin building up the newly formed task force," read the motion, which was unanimously approved by the board on Tuesday.
The board authorized Sheriff Robert Luna to use the money, part of $267 million grant announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 15 that is heading to 55 cities under the Organized Retail Theft Prevention awards. The supervisors' motion directs Luna to file the required grant documents and agreements as stipulated by the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) and also apply for future grants.
Monies will go to beefing up the Organized Retail Theft Task Force formed by LASD and the LAPD in August. The LAPD received the same amount from the state's fund.
The supervisors want the Sheriff's Department to work with law enforcement from cities throughout the county, as well as the L.A. County District Attorney's Office.
Other cities in the county benefitting from the state grant program are Santa Monica ($6.1 million); Beverly Hills ($4.5 million); and San Fernando ($495,000), noted Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
The sheriff's part of the task force consists of 32 sworn personnel, including one sergeant and seven detectives, Luna said. His team specializes in patterns of serious robberies and will partner with LAPD and the California Highway Patrol and other police agencies in the county, he said.
In the last month, the joint task force has made 32 felony arrests and six misdemeanor arrests, and has recovered five guns and $16,000 in stolen merchandise, Luna said.
"We will not only focus on individuals responsible for the thefts, but also those in getaway cars and those selling the stolen items," Luna told the board. The board will hear details about how the money will be spent at the Oct. 17 board meeting.
Luna said that sometimes stolen merchandise ends up for sale on the sidewalks near MacArthur Park, an area west of downtown Los Angeles.
"Flash mobs" and bands of robbers have made sudden stampedes into retail stores since early summer, grabbing merchandise, assaulting guards and then exiting quickly with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of items. The crimes have confounded business owners and law enforcement since July 3.
"We have heard loud and clear from our business communities and they are fed up," Luna said. "We will use this money to support, educate and intervene as we can (with businesses and the D.A.'s office)."
Supervisor Hilda Solis spoke about a robbery of a jewelry store in El Monte by a man with a hammer who smashed merchandise cases. The owners' sons tried to stop him, she said. Solis asked Luna what should she tell business owners who may become victims.
"Our advice to business owners is do not confront. Be the best witness you possibly can and immediately call 911," Luna said.
On Aug. 12, 30 to 50 people, all believed to be between the ages of 18 and 25, barged into the Nordstrom at the Topanga Mall in Canoga Park. The group rampaged through the department store, ultimately grabbing about $300,000 worth of merchandise, police said. Similar robberies at high-end stores occurred around that time, including the robbery of Ksubi clothing store on South La Brea in the Fairfax District on Aug. 15.
A "flash mob" robbed an Yves Saint Laurent store at the Americana at Brand mall in Glendale on Aug. 8. The loss was estimated at $300,000.
Jewelry stores in El Monte, La Verne, Riverside and Irvine also have been targeted by smash-and-grab robbers.
Thieves armed with hammers smashed glass cases and grabbed about $20,000 worth of perfume inside the Macy's at Northridge Fashion Center on Sunday, Sept. 10, police reported. Pasadena police arrested and charged four Romanian nationals earlier this month with stealing thousands of dollars of merchandise from the Macy's store in the city's South Lake Shopping District.
"It is crippling our businesses and traumatizing employees. Some people are now afraid to go shopping," said Bea Dieringer, president of the Los Angeles County Division of the League of California Cities.
Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn, a co-author of the motion with First District Supervisor Hilda Solis, directed the sheriff to also focus on prevention. "Many brick-and-mortar stores are just recovering from the pandemic. To be hit by these robberies is devastating," Hahn said.
While the supervisors and Luna welcomed the infusion of cash for the task force, others from justice-based reform groups argued that more money should be spent on helping people find jobs and other non-police services, instead of adding more to the Sheriff's Department budget.
"Why is your $4 billion budget not enough to prevent organized retail theft?" asked Ambrose Brooks, Justice L.A. Coalition coordinator. Others members of the public said the department already spends too much on overtime pay.
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