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High-end retail robberies may be connected, police say

Bay Area authorities are investigating whether a series of brazen takeover robberies of high-end retail stores might be connected.

The organized robberies have shocked residents and sparked new crackdowns from authorities.

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin said Tuesday that he has charged nine people with felonies in a series of shoplifting incidents that included a mass smash-and-grab at Union Square luxury stores.

At least 40 thieves allegedly broke into a Louis Vuitton store on Friday, grabbing whatever they could before loading it into a series of cars parked curbside out front. The shoplifting caravan cut a swath through San Francisco’s high-end boutiques, creating a scene of chaos while stealing more than $1 million in merchandise.

San Francisco Assistant Police Chief Mike Redmond said he expects many more arrests in the Union Square shoplifting incidents and indicated that the series of mob rip-offs around the Bay Area that began in San Francisco may be connected.

“We believe it is a lot of the same groups involved,” he said.

More patrols

Authorities across the state have stepped up security at retail centers.

Los Angeles police will step up patrols near retail hubs to prevent group takeover robberies after a break-in at Nordstrom in the Grove shopping center.

“We must ensure the public has a sense of safety,” Police Chief Michel Moore told the Los Angeles Police Commission, the department’s civilian oversight body. “We are worried that this kind of conduct will be seen as allowable, and nothing can be further from the truth.”

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said in an interview, “We are going to do everything we can to put a stop to this craziness.” But, he added, “we don’t have to shut down Union Square.”

Instead, he said, his officers are going to prevent people from pulling up in front of stores like Louis Vuitton. “In these spots, people were pulling up right in front and then running in the store, grabbing what they could and jumping back in their vehicles. We are going to disrupt that.”

Scott said he is also placing enough officers in such areas to prevent a mob of 40 or 50 people from overwhelming store security, as happened last week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the California Highway Patrol has also stepped up patrols.

Incidents

Besides the incidents at the Grove and Union Square:

  • On a Saturday night raid of a Nordstrom in nearby Walnut Creek just before closing time, some 80 people jumped out of a pack of cars, flash-mob style, and swarmed the aisles, many escaping with the merchandise. Two employees were assaulted, one of them pepper-sprayed.
  • Then, just after midnight Sunday, criminals used a sledgehammer to smash storefront windows at a Louis Vuitton and Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, police said, but patrol cars arrived to scare the thieves off before they could get inside.
  • Late Sunday, stores were also hit in San Jose and the East Bay.

Robberies in 2021 are up 3.2% in Los Angeles compared with 2020, but are 14.1% lower than in 2019. In and around Union Square in San Francisco, robberies fell nearly 5% from 2020 to 2021, while burglaries fell 2.3%.

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