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Thieves raided Catherine's family shop. California blames organized retail gangs

California Attorney General Rob Bonta says the recent thefts from shops are "organized retail crimes".
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
California Attorney General Rob Bonta says the recent thefts from shops are "organized retail crimes".

When the hammer hit the glass one recent Tuesday afternoon, Catherine Kim said it sounded like gunshots.

"It's an indoor [shopping] mall and the smashing of the glass was so loud and it echoed," Kim said.

"They went straight for our most expensive section – our gold chains. And they took all four trays. They had shopping bags ready, and they stuffed the trays in those shopping bags."

Kim's mother, who sells gold jewelry out of a kiosk the family owns at the Plaza Bonita mall near San Diego, tried to fend off the thieves with a chair. Nevertheless, they made off with about $250,000 worth of jewelry.

"For them [my parents], working this hard, and then for them to have such a huge setback like this is very discouraging – $250,000 is a lot of money for us. And, at the end of the day, they're very disappointed at what's happening right now," Kim said.

The Kim's kiosk is just one business targeted by shoplifters in California in recent weeks. Groups of thieves have stormed the Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco's Union Square, a Nordstrom and upscale malls in Walnut Creek, CA and Los Angeles.

A security guard stands outside the Nordstrom store at The Grove retail and entertainment complex in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.
Eugene Garcia / AP
A security guard stands outside the Nordstrom store at The Grove retail and entertainment complex in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

"The evidence we have demonstrates that these are organized retail crimes," California Attorney General Rob Bonta told NPR. "It is multiple individuals planning, strategizing, targeting a store or stores and then implementing that plan and then taking the proceeds that they've stolen and reselling them on secondary marketplaces to make a profit."

Bonta says a pattern is emerging where people use social media platforms to help hatch a plan and then sell the stolen goods online. He said websites and tech companies had a role to play in fighting this.

"If we can have our online marketplaces really make more strict the seller verification so that there is not a secondary marketplace for the resale of these stolen goods for profit, it can really freeze out the secondary market and take the incentive out of this crime in the first place," he said.

Critics have questioned whether criminal justice reform in California – specifically Proposition 47, which prevents felony charges for theft under $950 in value – acts as a disincentive for police to arrest shoplifters. Bonta says that's not the case, as the recent rash of retail thefts throughout the state is beyond petty theft.

"This is organized criminal activity where multiple individuals, up to 80 at times, are acting in concert to steal the goods. When the acting is in concert, then you aggregate the value of all goods stolen. And in one incident, it was over a million dollars of stolen goods," Bonta said.

"So the $950 threshold is way, way back in the rearview mirror."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.

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