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Toothpaste now under lock and key at local retailers

Mar 26, 2024

As stores across the region and state battle growing trends of retail theft, Santa Monica shoppers can now see first hand how businesses are protecting their goods with newly installed locked cabinets inside the city’s two Target stores.

To purchase toiletries and electronic, shoppers must find an employee to unlock the clear plastic cases. In the case of some high value items, employees will take the merchandise to the register and leave it with a cashier until customers check out.

Target has been among the most vocal of retailers in talking about the impact organized theft is having on their business.

Organized theft differs from traditional shoplifting. While stores have always contended with individuals taking a few items, the growing organized versions use crews to scout and plan large scale theft of specific items. While some individuals do the stealing, others convert the goods into cash, often through reselling items on eBay or Amazon.

Target said earlier this year that theft, including organized retail crime cost the company $650 million in losses last year and while they said theft levels were leveling, it would likely cost another $500 million this year.

The problem is a national phenomenon. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retailers saw a 26.5% increase in theft incidents in 2021 with eight in 10 of the retailers surveyed reporting that the violence and aggression associated with crime incidents increased in the past year. NRF said the problem cost retailers nearly $100 billion in 2021.

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According to the Los Angeles Police Department, the City of Los Angeles alone has experienced a 14.2% increase in retail theft for 2023 compared to 2022.

Much of the blame in California has been leveled at Prop. 47. The rule has often been misstated to say there are no penalties for low-level crimes, however the 2014 law didn’t legalize theft. Rather, it reduced the penalty for shoplifting less than $950 to a misdemeanor.

Proponents of the law say it was necessary to comply with a court order to address overcrowded prisons and that most retail theft is below $400 regardless of the law’s cap.

Critics say it has emboldened thieves who know misdemeanors may not be pursued by courts and even if they are, they carry light penalties.

Lawmakers have proposed revisions nonetheless with laws in the works to allow for felony charges against repeat thieves and to bring the felony threshold back down to $400.

Locally, law enforcement agencies are working on a new retail theft task force to address the issue.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has had a dedicated retail theft effort for years and recently Governor Gavin Newsom announced an expansion of that program specifically in Los Angeles.

As part of the agency’s expanded effort, the CHP will triple its resources in the Los Angeles region devoted to tackling retail crime and allocate additional investigators specifically for the new regional law enforcement task force that Mayor Karen Bass announced.

The Santa Monica Police Department is part of the effort with a dedicated detective working on the interagency team.

“Currently, our Property Crimes Unit works with regional and state partners to share information about incidents of organized retail theft, but this will be the first time we have had the opportunity to participate in something close to home and this well-represented,” said Lt. Erika Aklufi.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Traci Park praised the effort.

“The rise in smash-and-grab incidents are devastating our businesses, driving up consumer costs, and eroding public safety,” she said in a statement. “As an elected official, ensuring public safety is my primary responsibility and commitment. The task force’s round-the-clock availability, seven days a week, highlights our steadfast approach to combating these crimes. Their mandate is straightforward: such acts will not be tolerated in Los Angeles, and criminals will be held accountable.”

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Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers... More by Matthew Hall

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