California Attorney General Rob Bonta said this week the recent surge in "smash-and -grab" retail thefts plaguing the state and elsewhere in the nation are "organized crime," and are planned on social media platforms, in texts, and via messaging groups.
"You know, the crime we are seeing is organized crime, and it is going to take an organized strategy to put a stop to it," Bonta told the L.A. Times on Tuesday. "These are folks that have put thought into it, have a strategy, have a plan, focused on certain places at certain times, and communicate and work in concert."
One group of young people raided a Louis Vuitton store in San Fransisco, stealing luxury purses, bags, and designer wear, only to be followed days later by another group of around 80 individuals going through a Walnut Creek shopping mall taking expensive items, and yet another group using sledgehammers at a Nordstrom, the Times reported.
Bonta said the items taken during incidents like these that are taking place in several major cities throughout the country, end up getting sold in various online marketplaces.
To address the issue, Bonta hosted a forum Tuesday with several large retailers including CVS, Home Depot, and Target, as well as online sellers including Amazon, Facebook, and eBay, according to a press release from his office.
"Here at the [California] Department of Justice, we are doing our part to help organize that strategy," Bonta said during the forum. "My office, and the other stakeholders, have committed to coordinating our efforts and sharing intelligence in order to arrest and hold bad actors to account while proactively stopping future crime.
"We will do our part to ensure our communities feel safe, and protect from organized crime the workers, businesses, and consumers who drive our economy."
Bonta estimated the "flash mob" thefts result in retailers losing around $700,000 for every $1 billion in sales, and place customers and store employees in danger.
According to the release, proceeds raised through the sale of the stolen items can then be funneled to other illicit activity including human trafficking and other organized crime activity.
"We have all the key players to get the appropriate solutions," the Times reported Bonta telling reporters after the meeting. "Our retailers don't want to be victims of these unacceptable crimes. Our officers on law enforcement partners rightfully shouldn't put their lives on the line when responding to these outrageous smashes and grabs. And our online marketplaces don't want their platforms illegally abused."
He said law enforcement needs to target the organizers to really make a difference instead of the "foot soldiers" that are going into the stores.
"When folks know that there are consequences ... there will be accountability," Bonta told the Times. "And that's how we prevent it."
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