BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Organized retail crime has been an ongoing issue in California and Bakersfield has continued to see its effects. A community partnership between city officials, law enforcement, and mall security is now working on addressing the impact that crime has had on the Valley Plaza Mall.
Going to the mall should be a fun pastime. Many people may have memories of spending afternoons after school at the food court with friends or getting their siblings the perfect Christmas gift. But officials say city police have gotten hundreds of calls to the mall this year alone taking away from not only the shopping experience but calling into question public safety.
Councilmember Eric Arias says organized retail crime like a recent smash and grab at Valley Plaza Mall in March continues to be an issue.
“Typically young people, usually between groups of three to up to 10 folks, who come in at a single time, and just raid a store, take those goodies, with really no concern."
According to city police, they’ve received 516 calls to the Valley Plaza in 2022 alone. At the same time in 2021, they received 490 calls for service. While many of those calls aren't crime related the Bakersfield Police Department says officer responses can "run the gambit from thefts to shootings.”
“These issues, they affect commerce in the city, which of course, which of course ripples down to people’s pocketbooks, and also their perception safety when they go out into public spaces,” said Sgt. Robert Pair of the Bakersfield Police Department.
The increased organized retail crime led councilmembers Arias and Chris Parlier, along with Bakersfield City Manager Christian Clegg to do a walkthrough of the mall with Valley Plaza security.
“One of the problems have been these organized retail crime gangs that traverse jewelry stores, or Apple stores, so it’s not necessarily localized crime," says Parlier. "It’s ones that may start in Southern California, run up through the valley, up in Northern California and that’s what happened I guess a month or so ago and scared a lot of customers.”
Councilmember Parlier says he was overall impressed with the mall's modern and integrated security program. A local security director oversees their public safety department and helps coordinate theft loss prevention with retailers and police personnel.
Valley Plaza issued the following statement regarding crime a the mall: Valley Plaza Mall has a robust security program that incorporates many different components, most of which take place behind the scenes. The protocols that make up this program are under constant evaluation and are updated to best suit the needs of the center. We have a close working relationship with the Bakersfield Police Department and our local officials; we are in regular communication with them to strengthen our collaborative partnership. The goal of our security program is to create a space where our shoppers, tenants and employees feel safe. This is something that we take incredibly seriously. We will continue to work with our law enforcement and community partners to provide the most comfortable environment possible.
Councilmembers Arias says going forward the Valley Plaza security will place calls directly to BPD's watch commander to get someone out there as quickly as possible.
Arias adds that funding from the voter-approved Measure N has helped them in responding to public safety issues allowing BPD to increase its staffing.
“We're about 70 percent to that goal. At the end of this year, we should be at full complement, even with retirements and certain things," said Parlier.
Councilmember Parlier says they will continue having meetings with Valley Plaza as he says the city is very dedicated to protecting all its retail environments. He also says in the past Valley Plaza Mall did have a police substation at the mall and it’s something they may look at reviving.
With the increase of organized retail crime across the country, 23ABC took an in-depth look at the impacts of these large-scale thefts on retail stores.
According to the National Retail Federation, organized retail crime now costs retailers an average of $700,000 per $1 billion in sales
The most common items targeted by these retail crime gangs include designer clothing, laundry detergent, designer handbags, allergy medicine, razors, high-end liquor, and pain relievers.
Additionally, the average professional thief that targets a store can get away with $2,000 in merchandise in only two minutes
Finally, 78 percent of retailers surveyed last year say a federal law is still needed.