The Fresno and Clovis police departments will divide up a share of $23.6 million from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fund to combat retail theft.
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said the Fresno Police Department will get $15.6 million with the remainder going to the Clovis Police Department and Fresno County Probation Office.
“The grant dollars will be focused on three specific areas — reducing retail theft, reducing auto theft, and reducing the theft of catalytic converters, which we know all three of those have plagued our city and our county for many, many years,” Dyer said.
The joint collaboration between police agencies will create the Fresno Metropolitan Area Organized Theft Task Force, said Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama. Members of the task force will focus on identifying and arresting violators.
Work with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office will help prosecute criminals faster, Balderrama said.
“When we can lump them up together, when it’s a specific group that’s hit several locations then it becomes a serious felony crime and those will be prosecuted,” Balderrama said.
The money will fund one police sergeant, 24 police officers and two police support technicians. Those positions will specifically combat retail theft. Money will also provide training to business owners to understand what they can and cannot do.
The Fresno Police Department received the single-largest share of the money from the program. The Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff, and Ventura County Sheriffs received the next highest amounts at $15.7 million each. Separately, the Coalinga Police Department received $1.8 million from Newsom’s fund.
“The fact that we are getting almost twice as much as even some of the larger cities is a testament to the grant that was put together because of collaboration,” Balderrama said.
‘Enough With These Brazen Smash-and-Grabs’: Newsom
Officials from the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco and Los Angeles law enforcement agencies made the announcement Friday. It follows a string of brazen luxury store robberies in recent months, where dozens of individuals come into a store and begin stealing en masse.
Videos of the incidents have quickly spread online and fueled critics who argue California takes too lax an approach to crime.
“Enough with these brazen smash-and-grabs — we’re ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to take down these criminals,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement about the grants.
Grants Distributed Over Three Years
The spending comes from a pot of money Newsom first requested in late 2021, after he signed a law to reestablish a statewide taskforce to focus on investigating organized theft rings. The money will be given through grants to 55 agencies, including local police departments, sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.
The grants, to be distributed over the next three years, will help local law enforcement agencies create investigative units, increase foot patrol, purchase advanced surveillance technology and equipment, as well as crack down on vehicle and catalytic converter theft — an issue that has become rampant in the Bay Area. The money would also help fund units in district attorney’s offices dedicated to prosecuting these crimes.
California Highway Patrol Commissioner Sean Duryee called the money “a game changer.”
“This is a sizable investment that will be a force multiplier when it comes to combating organized retail crime in California,” he said at a news conference Friday.
Mass Shoplifting Events Caught on Video
Retailers in California and in cities elsewhere around the U.S., including Chicago and Minneapolis, have recently been targeted by large-scale thefts when groups of people show up in groups for mass shoplifting events or to enter stores and smash and grab from display cases.
Several dozen people participated in a brazen smash-and-grab flash mob at a Nordstrom store in the Westfield Topanga Shopping Center last month. Authorities said they used bear spray on a security guard, the Los Angeles Times reported, and the store suffered losses between $60,000 and $100,000.
Video showed a chaotic scene, with masked thieves running through the store – one dragging a display rack behind them. They smashed glass cases and grabbed expensive merchandise like luxury handbags and designer clothing as they fled.
Other high-end malls have been hit in similar fashion in recent years. Lately, a Gucci store and a Yves Saint Laurent store were major targets in the Los Angeles area, prompting authorities to announce a new task force to investigate the crimes.
“No Angeleno should feel like it’s not safe to go shopping in Los Angeles,” Mayor Karen Bass said last month while announcing the new task force. “No entrepreneur should feel like it’s not safe to open a business.”
Since 2019, law enforcement in California has arrested more than 1,250 people and recovered $30.7 million in stolen merchandise, the governor’s office said.