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Law enforcement agencies statewide team up to take down organized retail theft

Governor Gavin Newsom has announced the Real Public Safety Plan, part of which provides additional funding to municipal law enforcement agencies to help address organized retail theft.
chp in bakersfield file
Posted at 9:33 PM, Sep 15, 2023

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Organized retail crime has become a statewide issue, prompting the governor to invest millions of dollars into local law enforcement efforts to combat the issue. Recently, the Bakersfield Police Department completed an operation at Valley Plaza Mall that resulted in 17 arrests. Operations like the one in Bakersfield are happening all across the state, with law enforcement agencies teaming up to take down the offenders.

Since the creation of the California Highway Patrol's Organized Retail Crime Task Force in 2019, these theft rings have faced a significant blow, according to CHP Captain Jonathan Staricka.

"We'll do some operations where we have intelligence or information from various sources that make us target a specific individual or a group that's operating in, let's say in this case, Bakersfield or Kern County," explained Staricka, who works on the task force and assists in operations up and down the Central Valley.

Staricka participated in the operation in Bakersfield on August 26.

"The second kind of operations are called blitz operations," Staricka continued. "That's when we have investigators staged outside of retailers that are cooperating with us. We'll basically have officers stage in various places inside and outside of their store."

Cooperation between detectives and the retailers themselves is vital to these investigations, according to Sergeant Andrew Tipton with the Bakersfield Police Department.

"As weird as it sounds, there's some businesses where it's not worth it to them to go through the whole prosecution thing," said Tipton. "They have to send someone to court and testify, and for some, they'll just call it a loss."

Tipton says most of these crimes are committed by roving bands of repeat offenders moving up and down the state. That's why the Organized Retail Theft Task Force works closely with other agencies to keep track of suspects.

"Exchanging information, helping each other ID people, because a lot of these organized theft units are working in different areas," said Tipton.

According to Tipton, the 17 arrests at the Valley Plaza Mall were the result of 59 different investigations. He said that so far this year, they've received 654 calls for service from the mall, which puts them on track to meet last year's total of 1,077.

While not all of those calls are related to retail crime, larger shopping areas like the mall or the Northwest Promenade at Rosedale Highway and Coffee Road are hotspots.

"Most of the stores have directed their employees not to intervene, which is equally frustrating," said Tipton. "And it's frustrating for the public because they're paying full price and watching people basically walk in and out."

As part of Governor Newsom's Real Public Safety Plan, announced just this week, local law enforcement agencies in 7 counties and 31 cities will begin receiving additional funding for addressing organized retail theft starting on October 1. Both the Delano Police and Bakersfield Police Departments will receive a piece of that funding.

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