Q: I am concerned with the large number of homeless people who are hanging out in front of the library drinking, smoking and leaving trash everywhere. What are the police doing to address this?

A: This question has two issues; the first being the concern that there are people “hanging out” in front of the library. The Santa Monica Police Department wants to remind everyone that all of the libraries in our city can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their residential status. With the library being a public building, there is no restriction from anyone, homeless or not, from remaining on the property as long as they are not doing anything unlawful per the municipal code, penal code or library rules.

In regards to the drinking, smoking and littering, this is illegal and it is an issue the police have been and will continue to address whenever possible. I, along with many other officers, have given warnings and issued numerous citations to those that smoke on the library grounds, drink alcohol in public or leave litter on the ground. (Littering also includes throwing cigarette butts on the street or sidewalk.) In addition, Library Services Officers and library management are working with the police on ways to further educate those on the rules and laws surrounding the library. If you do see anyone littering, or violating any rules or laws, please do not hesitate to contact a nearby library staff member or the SMPD at (310) 458-8491.

Q: I was stopped by someone in a parking lot who asked me if I wanted to buy a pair of designer jeans for $20. The person said it was great deal as they were the same jeans that sold in the department stores for over $100. Should I be concerned?

A: Yes! You should be very concerned. It goes to the old adage, “If it sounds or looks too good to be true, it probably is.” If someone is selling you something that appears to be less than what even the retailer’s cost should you be, either the item is fake, or it is stolen merchandise. And if you purchased the item knowing that it could be stolen, you could be charged with a felony crime for being in possession of stolen property.

As consumers we pay much more for merchandise because of both instances. If the item is fake, the quality will not be to the same standard as the real manufacturer’s specifications. Also, name brand manufacturers have to often spend money and manpower combating fraudulent manufacturers and end up passing those costs on to you and I, the consumer.

The other and more prevalent issue is that the item(s) in question are most likely stolen. These items are stolen by three different groups of people. The first are those that steal for their own use. The second type of person steals items to sell to their friends, family or local retailers who would buy items at 10-15 percent of the retail without asking any questions. The third type of thief is usually part of a group, also known as organized retail crime.

Organized retail crime has been defined as professional shoplifting, cargo theft, retail crime rings and other organized crime occurring in retail environments. One person acting alone is not considered an example of organized retail crime.

The FBI has estimated that the losses attributed to organized retail crime could reach as much as $30 billion a year. These criminals move from store to store and even city to city. Working in teams, some create distractions while others steal everything from infant formula to DVDs.

Both local and federal agencies work with retailers to fight organized retail crime. In early 2008 in the state of Florida, a single shoplifting investigation turned up a massive organized enterprise. Operating for at least five years, criminals had stolen up to $100 million in medicine, health and beauty goods. In Texas FBI agents pulled over a rental truck, leading them to $2.7 million in stolen assets. The goods included $1 million in stolen baby formula that was stored in rodent-infested garages with no temperature control.

Gang members consistently steal high-value merchandise that can be easily hidden, such as medications, infant formula, razor blades, apparel, camera film, batteries, DVDs, CDs, and smoking cessation products. Thieves may resell infant formula and pharmaceuticals among other things after not storing them correctly — or after altering expiration dates. This results in unsuspecting consumers having to face serious health and safety risks.

In order to sell their stolen goods, criminals had to rely on the black market by sending it overseas or they could sell it locally at swap meets and flea markets. Now, criminals are also using more sophisticated ways to sell their stolen items through the Internet from sites such as eBay and Craigslist.

Be aware that no matter what line of work you do, retail theft affects all of us else as the cost of this crime gets passed on to all consumers. The way you can help is by ensuring that you do not purchase items from those that appear to be questionable dealers or sellers. So remember, if you are buying items for pennies on the dollar and it appears like it is too good of a deal, it probably is.

If you suspect someone is selling fake or stolen merchandise on the street or business, please contact the police department at (310)458-8491 or you may anonymously call the “We Tip” line at (310) 458-8449.

This column was prepared by NRO Jeff Glaser (Beat 3: Downtown, including the Third Street Promenade). He can be reached at (424) 200-0683 or jeffrey.glaser@smgov.net.

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