Holiday crime has been on the rise at Great Mall in Milpitas over the past few years, and the city’s police want to change that trend.
The Milpitas Police Department wants to deter thefts this holiday season by educating retailers on safety procedures and increasing its police presence at retail hotspots—most notably at Great Mall. The mall, one of the state’s largest indoor shopping outlet centers, draws residents from across the Bay Area during the holiday season.
“Crime management has several different stages, it’s not just about enforcement,” Police Chief Jared Hernandez told San José Spotlight. “We can sometimes prevent it by educating people on how to protect themselves, (and) there’s also the deterrent piece.”
Over the past three years, the city has seen a rise in reported thefts at Great Mall. In 2020 it was 10.5%. In 2021, it rose to 13%, and last year the percentage jumped to 18.5%.
Hernandez added that shopping levels dropped significantly in 2020 during COVID-19, as did retail crime. In 2021 shopping habits started to gradually return to normal levels.
Great Mall’s management team deferred questions to its public relations office, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Because of the mall’s size, nearly 1.4 million square feet, the shopping outlet has a designated patrol beat, Hernandez said. There are four officers assigned to the mall, with two always on patrol. During the holiday season additional officers patrol the mall when not responding to calls for service.
The cost for extra patrols will come out of the police’s discretionary overtime allocation, which has about $385,000 set aside for overtime and emergency situations.
Mall shopper Dominic Ballesteros, who lives in Alameda County, said he’s heard of theft and safety issues in other cities, but not at Great Mall.
“That’s why we go here,” Ballesteros told San José Spotlight. “It’s a nice place to stroll.”
Fremont resident and shopper Ceri Hitchcock said she often worries about safety at the mall during holidays, and the city’s increased police presence makes her more likely to come here.
“Crime comes and goes, and it’s nice to know something is being done about it,” Hitchcock told San José Spotlight.
Hernandez said the police department has been involved in a handful of organized retail theft operations, two in partnership with California Highway Patrol, in the months leading up to the holidays. Earlier this year, the San Jose City Council approved the creation of an organized retail theft unit to combat the same expected rise in crime.
Officers assigned to the mall build a rapport with business owners and workers, Hernandez said, which helps officers share safety information such as best practices on organizing a store’s internal layout to reducing being a target, or how to identify suspicious behavior. The department also works to inform shoppers about their personal safety, he added.
“I think the most effective way to deal with crime is when it’s in partnership with our community,” Hernandez told San José Spotlight. “It’s important for people to report things to us, to let us know what they see, to make sure we can investigate and … maximizing the opportunity to keep people safe.”