Tag Archive for: retail theft

DA, 14 Mayors Work to Place Public Safety Initiative on the Ballot

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan was joined today by the mayors from cities across San Diego County as well as business leaders, crime victims and other concerned citizens in an effort to inform the public and boost signature gathering to place the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act on the November ballot. The measure would make communities, businesses, and streets safer and healthier by restoring the rule of law, holding repeat retail thieves and fentanyl dealers better accountable, and incentivizing individuals who are addicted and homeless to accept life-saving treatment.

The following mayors are all supporting the signature gathering effort: Vista Mayor John Franklin, Escondido Mayor Dane White, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, National City Mayor Ron Morrison, Chula Vista Mayor John McCann, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, Santee Mayor John Minto, Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, Carlsbad Mayor Keith Blackburn, Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.

[WATCH LIVE STREAM OF NEWS CONFERENCE HERE]

“This is a balanced, commonsense initiative that addresses the fentanyl crisis by going after drug dealers who are killing our loved ones and imposes stronger penalties for repeat offenders of organized retail theft, which is hurting far too many families and local businesses,” said DA Stephan. “We need responsible reform that allows judges to incentivize life-saving treatment for those struggling with severe addiction, holds repeat offenders accountable but also gives first, second, and even third chances for those who commit theft or possess hard drugs to be treated for addiction or mental illness. Voters should have the opportunity to debate and weigh in on this important initiative.”

The measure has collected more than 360,000 signatures from California voters to place it on the November ballot, but nearly 550,000 valid signatures are needed.

The ballot measure is designed to fix the unintended consequences and harmful impacts of Proposition 47, which passed in 2014 and— for example— made retail theft under $950 and drug possession of methamphetamine and fentanyl into misdemeanors no matter how many times the crime is repeated.

“Neighborhood markets are the lifeblood of our communities,” said Neighborhood Market Association President Arkan Somo. “Proposition 47 unleashed a tidal wave of theft and violence that harms our small business owners, their employees and families, and most importantly, our customers. This proposed ballot measure will give law enforcement the tools it needs to keep all of us safe. “

Unintended Consequences of Prop 47 and current laws include:

  • Homelessness increased 51% in California while decreasing 11% in states with more balanced laws.
  • Homeless individuals in San Diego County are dying of drug overdoses at a rate 118 times higher than the general public.
  • Overdose deaths from illicit fentanyl have more than tripled, claiming more young lives in San Diego County than any other cause.
  • Organized retail theft has exploded, resulting in massive economic losses, losses of jobs caused by store closures, and losses of essential goods for struggling neighborhoods.
  • Fentanyl dealers who cause overdose deaths generally receive minimal consequences under the law.
  • Drug Courts that offer effective treatment have lost their ability to incentivize those who commit crimes driven by addiction to engage in treatment.

A recent survey showed that more than 85% of voters across every political party and each demographic support reforming Proposition 47.

“This initiative is a balanced approach that gives our justice system the tools they need to protect our communities from criminals while also providing an opportunity for people suffering from addiction to get back on their feet,” said Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey. “Current policies have contributed to the rise in crime and homelessness throughout the state over the past decade, but this initiative will help reverse those trends and make California a safe place to live and do business once again.”

“As a retired San Diego Police Officer and Detective with 29 years of law enforcement experience, I possess a firsthand understanding of the adverse effects of Proposition 47 on the lives of Californians,” Santee Mayor John Minto said. “This initiative is a crucial step towards addressing the rising challenges of homelessness, drug addiction, and theft that plague our communities. Californians, including the residents of Santee, are demanding relief from the escalating lawlessness that has driven up the cost of goods statewide.”

Oceanside Mayor and retired public defender Esther Sanchez said, “The unintended consequences of Prop 47 took out the highly successful drug court program, leading to increased drug addiction and crime and in effect tying the hands of law enforcement protecting our neighborhoods and businesses. This citizens’ initiative gives back tools our communities need to help residents, many times family members, face their addictions and crimes while offering support and a path toward a life with positive options, such as family reunification, a home and jobs.”

The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act would allow for stronger penalties for those engaged in the trafficking of hard drugs or for repeat offenders of retail theft. It will still give first and second chances for those who commit theft and possess hard drugs to be treated with a misdemeanor. However, on the third conviction, there’s a requirement that drug treatment be completed to earn a misdemeanor or be held accountable for a felony creating a new category of “Treatment Mandated Felony.” A fourth conviction results in a felony crime.

This initiative will also allow aggregation of multiple thefts to reach the $950 threshold to charge a felony theft so that those that are gaming the system can be stopped. The initiative addresses the fentanyl crisis by allowing harsher penalties fentanyl drug dealers whose actions lead to overdose deaths.

Signature gathering for the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act will take place in the coming weeks across the county and the public is encouraged to seek out opportunities to sign the petition.

DA Stephan Testifies Before Congressional Committee About Strategies to Fight Organized Retail Crime

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan testified in Washington, D.C. today before the House Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement and Intelligence, providing her perspective on the increasing crime of organized retail theft. At a hearing titled, “From Festive Cheer to Retail Fear: Addressing Organized Retail Crime,” DA Stephan discussed the scope of the problem in the U.S., the solutions being pursued by law enforcement and success stories in holding retail thieves accountable. Stephan appeared in her capacity as both San Diego DA and President-Elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

WATCH the DA’s full testimony, here.

DA Stephan told committee members there are three key challenges facing prosecutors across the nation who are working to fight organized retail theft:

The evolution of more sophisticated criminal networks. Organized retail theft is no longer just the work of isolated petty criminals. Instead, it has evolved into highly sophisticated operations, often conducted by well-organized networks and coordinated across multiple locations.

An inadequate legal framework. Existing laws and penalties in many states are not sufficient to deter or appropriately punish those engaged in organized retail theft. Many states including California have passed laws that increased the dollar amount of theft that qualifies as a felony and eliminated enhanced consequences for recidivist and habitual offenders.

The need for better coordination. In the past, the lack of coordination and information-sharing among retailers, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders has hindered the ability to combat organized retail theft effectively. A continued collaborative and multi-faceted approach is necessary to address this issue comprehensively.

Stephan pointed to laws in several states that raised the threshold of the value of merchandise stolen from retail stores in order to qualify for felony charges.

“Law enforcement and our retailers agree that the increase in retail theft-related incidents has been the direct result of changing laws and penalties for shoplifting,” DA Stephan said. “The message that these deficient laws send is that this is the wild west with no rules or accountability.”

The San Diego County DA’s Office has made prosecuting and preventing organized retail crime a priority. DA Stephan formed a specialized team of prosecutors and investigators to combat organized retail theft and work with businesses to build stronger cases.

Stephan praised Congress for passing the INFORM Act, which became law this year and requires online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, to collect, verify, and disclose certain information from high-volume sellers and provide consumers with means to report suspicious activity.

“This is a step in the right direction to stop organized criminals from selling stolen goods on online marketplaces,” said Stephan said. “It removes the anonymity of the seller and makes it easier for law enforcement to find online sellers of stolen goods and prosecute them.”

Stephan also urged the passage of H.R. 895, the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023— which would expand federal enforcement of criminal offenses related to organized retail crime and establish an Organized Retail Crime Coordination Center within the Department of Homeland Security.

“The good news is that on both the national and statewide level, there is a commitment to stop organized retail crime. At least 34 states now have organized retail crime laws. It’s important that these laws include increased penalties for those involved in these criminal activities and provisions that enable law enforcement to better investigate and prosecute offenders,” DA Stephan said.

Stephan also relayed her experience to committee members of visiting stores targeted by retail thieves and talking to workers about the trauma and fear that they experience from these brazen crimes. In a recent study, retailers reported an increase in violence and aggression by the criminals committing these crimes. “This is not a victimless crime,” Stephan said.

DA Meets with Businesses in the County Aiming to Reduce Organized Retail Theft

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today pledged a renewed focus on fighting organized retail theft in San Diego County and holding thieves accountable. The DA met with ULTA Beauty loss prevention management and toured their San Marcos location which was hit last year by a team of thieves running an organized retail theft ring across Southern California. The San Marcos store was one of 21 ULTA Beauty stores targeted by one of the defendants who stole $127,000 worth of fragrances in just one month.

During their last incident in 2022, the group encountered San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies who were waiting in the ULTA Beauty parking lot and took up pursuit.  A bicyclist was hit by the defendants’ car as they tried to avoid arrest. Eight bags of fragrances were found in the car with defendants. The defendants ultimately received sentences up to four years in state prison.

“We’re holding organized retail theft crime rings accountable for the harm to retailers, their employees and customers who are often traumatized by these crimes,” said DA Stephan. “Meeting with managers at stores in the county strengthens relationships and lines of communication that can help us build strong criminal cases to reduce this type of theft. We are committed to stop organized criminal rings from stealing large amounts of goods from small and large businesses with the intent to resell them, particularly through unregulated online marketplaces.”

The DA’s visit to the store is one of several being made at retail businesses in the county.  The National District Attorney Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) announced National Store Walk Month recently with the goal of local prosecutors and retailers coming together to strengthen relationships and open direct lines of communication. DA Stephan or Deputy District Attorneys from her office are also participating in store walks at Home Depot, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Walmart, and Lowes stores.

In addition, DA Stephan toured Sunny Perfumes last week in San Ysidro, a small business that has also been targeted by retail thieves. The owner, Sunil Gakhreja, says he’s spent thousands of dollars repairing smashed windows and adding metal shutters for security and has had to move his more expensive items to the back of the store, making it more difficult for thieves to steal them. He also says that in addition to the loss of inventory to theft, criminals have threatened and even attacked his employees.

The DA also announced the assignment of specific prosecutors who will handle all organized retail theft cases that are submitted to the DA’s Office in various jurisdictions. They will be focusing on stopping the organized theft crews and identifying the habitual offenders to try to assist large and small businesses who are struggling with the explosion of retail theft. The prosecutors will coordinate with stores to focus on the most serious offenders.

In a one-year period, the DA filed criminal cases involving organized retail theft against 77 defendants. In February of this year, two men were sentenced for a series of brazen organized retail theft crimes where multiple Sunglass Hut store locations were targeted, resulting in a reported loss of $238,847. Hundreds of pairs of sunglasses were stolen from nine Sunglass Hut store locations, some of which were targeted more than once.  The defendants also targeted other high-end stores, stealing more than $4,000 in shoes from Nordstrom Rack, more than $7,000 in merchandise from Bloomingdales, and over $6,000 in jackets from Burberry. The defendants were both sentenced to 44 months in state prison.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that external theft, which includes organized retail crime, is the primary driver of retail “shrink.” NRF’s National Retail Security Survey released earlier this year revealed that organized retail theft reached $94.5 billion in 2021, with retailers reporting an increase in violence and aggression associated with these crimes. The National Chamber of Commerce says 25 percent of small businesses report raising prices because of shoplifting and some retailers have been forced to shutter locations in response to rampant theft.

DA Brings Fight Against Organized Retail Theft Rings to the National Stage

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a virtual panel discussion on Thursday to strategize on ways to stop organized retail crime, which has spiked significantly in the past five years. This theft is perpetrated by organized criminal rings that steal large amounts of goods from businesses of all types and sizes with the intent to resell them, particularly through unregulated online marketplaces.

During the event, DA Stephan discussed the importance of building partnerships with businesses and law enforcement similar to the strong collaboration that we have in the San Diego Organized Retail Crimes Alliance (ORCA), keeping employees and shoppers safe, and closing loopholes in laws that fail to bring accountability for serial theft and organized crime.

“I appreciate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce inviting us to join them to shine a light on this public safety issue that is wreaking havoc on small and large businesses and making employees and customers feel unsafe,” DA Stephan said. “We were also able to share best practices from San Diego County on holding these organized crime rings accountable while fighting to fix outdated state and federal laws that allow the unregulated sale of stolen goods online and provide little recourse to stop repeat offenders.”

In a recent San Diego case, two thieves were prosecuted for 42 felony counts of looting, grand theft, and burglary for breaking into ULTA Beauty, Nordstrom Rack and other stores during nighttime hours.

DA Stephan has taken a tough stance against organized retail thieves and is continuing to explore additional ways to hold these criminals accountable amid high-profile smash and grabthefts across California. Stephan participated in a similar roundtable discussion earlier this summer with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National District Attorneys Association.

Beginning in 2019, with the passage of Californias Organized Retail Theft Law (PC 490.4), the San Diego DAs Office began a partnership with the California Highway Patrols Organized Retail Theft team of special investigators. Since that time, a number of successful prosecutions have occurred. Crews of thieves coming to San Diego from other parts of the California have been prosecuted in a single case for all crimes they committed against retail stores up and down the state.

National retail groups estimate retail theft losses to be in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Locally, San Diego County has not yet seen any of the larger smash and grab” incidents, but instead thefts are increasingly carried out by organized crews of thieves who are traveling around the state and hitting store after store of whatever they specialize in or whatever is in demand like fragrances, tools and electronics. Law enforcement is arresting some thieves who are San Diego residents but say at least half of them are not local residents and only come to San Diego to steal.