San Jose targets retail theft with new police unit
The Gucci Store in WestField Valley Fair was robbed by an organized retail theft ring on Oct. 5. Photo by Jason Torres Iraheta

Thieves hoping to snatch items off the shelves of San Jose retailers may have a tougher time this holiday season.

City policymakers this week launched a new police team to stop retail theft after the city saw a 25% spike in the crime from 2021 to 2022.

The San Jose City Council unanimously approved creating the Organized Retail Theft Detail, an investigative team within the San Jose Police Department to gather intelligence and track crime statistics and patterns to identify hotspots, catch criminals and reduce the rate of retail crimes. The team will include one full time and four part-time investigators.

Some shop owners say the timing is perfect with holiday shopping already underway. Jack Meir, manager of Yeti in Santana Row, said the store has lost almost $1,000 worth of merchandise after being open only two months.

“All we have talked about in our holiday meeting so far was trying to hire more seasonal workers in order to have more personnel on the floor and have more look outs,” Meir told San José Spotlight. “Safety is the most important thing that we value.”

In San Jose, 5,756 retail theft crimes were reported last year. And it’s a national trend.

Retail theft across the country has cost $125.7 billion in economic losses and $39.2 billion in lost wages, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In California, $19 billion in economic losses were reported. The state created the Organized Retail Theft Prevention Grant Program in 2022 through Senate Bill 154 to prevent and respond to organized retail theft.

San Jose’s police department received nearly $8.5 million from the state to launch a three-year program. It was one of 38 law enforcement agencies in California to receive the funding. More than half the funds will pay for analyst salaries and overtime for sworn officers to proactively patrol shopping centers to deter crime.

Officers will partner with the district attorney to support prosecutions and work with retailers to arrest criminals.

“One of the big aspects is sharing knowledge and best practices,” SJPD Lt. Brent McKim said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “So if somebody hits Walmart, and we know that, then we can and we will alert the Target down the street that they might be hit as well.”

Nearly $3.5 million will fund technology including fingerprint scanners, forensic software and additional cars and radios. SJPD is also purchasing 300 license plate readers to help catch thieves at hotspots. San Jose uses 72 license plate readers currently that councilmembers approved in 2021 in response to the spike in retail crimes.

“It’s a two prong approach: prevention and then investigation,” McKim said. “I think the money in this grant will help us attack from both sides.”

Councilmember Peter Ortiz urged police to focus on smaller, family-owned businesses in East San Jose – and not just major retailers like Westfield’s Oakridge and Valley Fair malls. He said theft at mom-and-pop shops often goes unreported and forces business owners to lock their stores during the day or move to other parts of the city.

“They’re starting to lock their doors to protect them from potential robberies or shoplifting, which gives the impression to the public that the business is not open,” Ortiz said. “But it also creates an unwelcoming shopping experience.”

McKim said the police department will scope out hotspots at smaller businesses.

Mayor Matt Mahan and Councilmember Bien Doan applauded efforts to work with prosecutors to ensure thieves are held accountable.

“We want to let people know that the city of San Jose is a safe place to visit, to shop, to live,” Doan said. “And to let the criminals know we are going to prosecute.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter. Jason Torres Iraheta contributed to the story.

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