LA luxury mall latest to be hit by smash-and-grab thieves

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Los Angeles police say a group of thieves broke into the windows of a department store in a luxury mall

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LOS ANGELES – A group of thieves broke into the windows of a department store at a luxury mall in Los Angeles, just days after high-end stores were targeted in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The latest incident in a national trend of robbery crimes targeted a Nordstrom store at The Grove retail and entertainment complex. This comes as the nation’s largest consumer electronics chain said a rise in organized theft is taking a toll on its bottom line.

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Workers covered a large broken window with black plywood as security guards and shoppers walked in and out of a store at Nordstrom Tuesday morning. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michelle Moore said the agency would increase its visible patrols in and around high-end stores starting Tuesday night over Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekends.

“Such offenses,” Moore said, “have a deeper impact on the sense of security and security than just the loss of a business’s dollars.”

Moore said the thieves used a hammer and an e-bike to break the window panes at around 10:40 a.m. Monday. About 20 people were involved in the burglary, they stole about $5,000 worth of merchandise, and when they fled, the store lost about $15,000.

Officers chased an SUV involved in the crime, and the chase ended with three men – including a juvenile – arrested. Officers found Nordstrom merchandise in the SUV, as well as items stolen during the CVS burglary earlier in the day.

The Grove incident followed a weekend of similar brazen thefts in the San Francisco Bay Area and Beverly Hills, in which groups of people, some carrying crowbars and hammers, ransacked high-end stores before fleeing. Jewelry, sunglasses, suitcases, clothes and other items were stolen. In waiting cars.

Prosecutors for seven Bay Area counties said they would make a joint effort to combat organized retail theft and on Tuesday met with a representative from the state attorney general’s office to discuss a partnership “running the fence like this.” Developing effective solutions to break the network implicating “crime,” said a statement from the office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Boudin also announced that serious charges had been filed against nine people for a series of Friday night thefts involving a Louis Vuitton store, a cannabis dispensary and a Walgreens.

The theft is believed to be part of a sophisticated criminal network that primarily recruits young people to steal merchandise in stores across the country and then sell it in online marketplaces. Experts and law enforcement officials say thefts are on the rise as the holiday shopping season approaches.

The National Retail Federation said a recent survey found stores are seeing an increase in organized theft and criminals are becoming more aggressive.

Electronics chain Best Buy on Tuesday cited organized theft as one of the reasons for its third-quarter gross profit margin decline.

“This is a real issue that hurts and scares real people,” Best Buy CEO Corey Barry told analysts during a conference call on Tuesday.

Barry told reporters during a separate call that the company is seeing an increase in organized piracy across the country, but especially in San Francisco. She said the company is hiring security guards and working with its vendors on creative ways to stage products.

Yet loss prevention agents and security guards are trained not to engage with thieves, said mall and retail security expert David Levenberg. They are not trained or equipped to chase or subdue suspects, and the potential for violence is high; Instead they should “observe and report”.

“The value of the goods is not worth anyone being injured or killed,” he said.

Workplace security expert Hector Alvarez said retailers need to rethink how to handle their customers during loot-and-grab thefts. Stores have an obligation to keep their shoppers safe during these events, he said, such as in case a fire breaks out.

Customers should not interfere or confront thieves, he said, but focus on being a good witness for law enforcement.

While these brazen crimes are still relatively rare, “going shopping has now become dangerous in some cases,” said Alvarez, president of California-based Alvarez Associates LLC.

There is no report of any casualty of any shopkeeper in the latest accidents.

Flash mobs are usually organized by locals who recruit their employees and send them to steal specific merchandise requested by criminal organizations across America, said Ben Dugan, president of the Law Enforcement and Retail Coalition.

The burglars are paid between $500 and $1,000 to take as much as they can and bring it back to the organizers who ship it to other parts of the country.

“The crew owners organize them. They will crowbar him, and in some cases even rent a car to him, or provide him with an escape route or a list of products to actually go out and steal. It looks so chaotic, but it’s actually very well organized,” Dugan said.

“We are not talking about someone who needs money or needs food. These are the people who go out and do this for high profit and adventure,” he said.

In some cases, however, the thieves may be copycats rather than people working with organized networks, Levenberg said. He said the thieves must be thinking: “‘Did you see what happened in San Francisco? Let’s go to the grove and do it.'”

And while burglary burglaries are rampant across the country, Levenberg said cities with progressive prosecutors — such as Los Angeles and San Francisco — are particularly hard hit because the penalties for offenders are not as harsh as in other cities.

“The consequences are minimal, and the profits substantial,” said Levenberg, founder of Florida-based Center Security Services.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that his office met retailers over the weekend who asked for more police patrols.

He added that increased enforcement will begin immediately “in and around areas with high trafficking potential and shopping malls approaching the Black Friday holiday season.”

Dugan said that organized theft causes retailers about $65 billion in losses each year, which are stolen by professional thieves.

Last week, 14 suspects walked into a Louis Vuitton store in Oak Brook, a Chicago suburb, pulled large plastic bags from their coats and filled them with clothing and other items, stealing more than $120,000 in merchandise, police said.

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Associated Press writers Stephanie Dizzio and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Anne D’Innocenzio in New York contributed to this report.

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