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Organized Retail Theft Task Force Catching Smash-and-Grab Thiefs

CATCHING RETAIL THIEFS: L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn with L.A.. County Sheriff Robert Luna at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce. A retail theft occurred at the Lululemon at the Outlet a few weeks ago. 89 suspects have been taken into custody since the task force started.

By Brian Hews

This past week, L.A. County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis and Sheriff Robert Luna held an event to discuss the progress made so far by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Organized Retail Theft Task Force.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved a $15.6 million grant from the state to fund the task force. The funds will go towards training for law enforcement personnel involved and new technology.

The task force will feature 22 full-time investigators devoted to organized retail crime, according to Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher, the chief of detectives for LAPD.

The California Highway Patrol will “triple its resources” in Los Angeles to help address organized retail crime, according to the governor’s office.

“In the first five weeks of the task force, our teams have made 89 arrests for retail-related thefts, recovered six firearms, and executed 52 search warrants,” Luna said.

It’s something that authorities and store owners say is becoming all too common, and on Thursday, Los Angeles County officials held a press conference at the popular outdoor shopping mall in Commerce to provide an update on the progress being made in the ongoing campaign against thieves.

Steve Craig, owner of Citadel Outlets in Commerce, has seen it firsthand.

“A few months ago, several ladies walked into Lululemon with 55 gallon trash bags, loaded them up as full as they could and ran out the door with them,” Craig said. “They’re organized; these products end up in other places, and it’s for profit.”

Sheriff Luna mentioned that investigators have recovered $370,000 worth of stolen merchandise.

“The task force is working closely with the business community, establishing new lines of communication with store owners and managers,” Hahn said.

When asked how many repeat offenders are among the 89 arrested, Luna said he wasn’t certain but believed they accounted for some of the total.

“I am going to take an educated guess right now that several of the individuals being arrested are repeat offenders, and that’s a significant challenge for us,” Luna said.

The challenge, according to authorities, is holding those people accountable with the current laws in place.

“Our intent is to get them prosecuted to the full extent of the law, so when I talk about prosecutors, we’re going to do everything that we possibly can,” Luna said.

He stressed that it was critical for authorities and the public to consistently apply pressure to hold the criminals accountable.

KTLA reached out to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to see how many of those arrested are facing prosecution and we have yet to receive a response.

Hahn finished the event by saying, “The work of the Organized Retail Theft Task Force is just beginning, but this is a promising start, and I know our Sheriff’s deputies will continue their diligent work to address the whole chain of these crimes – the criminals who carry out the smash-and-grabs, the getaway drivers, the people who are organizing these robberies on the back end, as well as the sellers of stolen goods.