Downtown retailers, like their counterparts nationwide, are concerned by persistent theft and representatives from downtown retail outlets, together with the proprietors of several bars and restaurants, gathered at the Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM) offices on the Third Street Promenade this week to talk about the issues faced with combating crime and the current homelessness crisis.
Jenna Grigsby, Chief Deputy City Attorney, acted as host and moderator and she was joined by Hayden Thomas, also from the City Attorney’s Office and Lieutenant Robert D’Andrea of Santa Monica PD’s Downtown Service Unit.
Owners, employees and in particular asset protection managers from the likes of REI, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch and Ye Olde King’s Head gathered after receiving a flyer from a community ambassador titled Retail Theft Diversion Meeting last week.
The problems faced are many, including theft and safety concerns.
Back in October, for instance, a homeless man first entered the high-end furniture store Design Within Reach on Santa Monica Blvd and Fourth Street wielding two large knives and locking the front door behind him, before eventually moving on to the T-Mobile store on the Promenade where officers from the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) were able to apprehend him.
“We get a lot of homeless, looking for opportunities, coming in to steal whatever they can get,” says Lisa Powers, manager of Ye Olde King’s Head and the adjacent shop. “We had a woman who was with a big family, they were in the restaurant and someone stole her purse, right out of her bag, went straight to Nordstrom and spent five grand on it. That was only two weeks ago.”
Powers spoke of how they had been forced to hire a security guard. “Now that’s changed things a little bit, because now they see him, and he’s a big guy. They see him and that puts them off, but then when he leaves, it all goes crap again.”
The experience of local stores is mirrored nationwide. 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.
“Retailers are devoting considerable resources to prevent the victimization of their employees, guests and organizations,” said the Federation in their most recent National Security Survey. “They are boosting their budgets for loss prevention and technology, and 52.4% are increasing budgets specifically for capital and equipment. Retailers are implementing a variety of technological solutions, from artificial intelligence-based video analytics at point of sale/self-checkout to selfservice locking cases, autonomous security robots and license plate recognition.”
The group said about a third of national retailers have established dedicated teams to help increase apprehension and prosecution of theft.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the problem of “retail crime” extends well beyond common shoplifting and often into organized criminal activity. CHP operates several regional retail theft task forces, including one in the Los Angeles area.
“Commercial burglary, vehicle burglary, identity theft, credit card fraud, forgery, and fencing (selling or distribution of) stolen property are part of a bigger picture that finance ongoing criminal operations,” said CHP.
Locally, different stores have their own legal policies for how to deal with situations like these, with some being more effective than others. Stores can also have their own, very different set of problems to deal with, from simple theft, to people locking themselves inside in-store bathrooms for hours at a time to take drugs. However, participants at the meeting said if everyone within the downtown area can communicate and share resources, it’s entirely possible some of these problems could be avoided, or at least reduced.
D’Andrea mentioned that in the past he had attempted to hold meetings on a weekly basis, but might try again to arrange similar meetings, but on a monthly or bimonthly frequency this time.
Lieutenant Erika Aklufi, from the SMPD told the Daily Press that the police department encourages business owners and their employees who have information about a crime that has been committed or may be committed to call the dispatch center.
“We also have a 24/7 non-emergency line (310-458-8491) that goes to the same personnel as 9-1-1. This is the best way to report issues in the community that are happening now, but that are more concerning than dangerous, such as thefts or disturbances inside or directly outside a store. This number can also be used to report incidents that have already occurred.”
Additional reporting by Matthew Hall.