The videos are terrifying and the results can be economically catastrophic. What, if anything, can be done to cut down on the dangerous and costly retail thefts?
During the latest episode of Eyewitness Newsmakers, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón joined us to discuss the problem.
He said his office is committed to prosecuting these crimes to the fullest, and that they try to obtain the highest bail possible in certain circumstances. Despite that, overcrowding in the jail system can mean people who commit crimes like retail thefts are quickly released and sometimes reoffend.
"We're trying to make sure that our response to this is tailored based on the realities that we work with," he said. "So when people are there that... are repeat offenders, that they're gonna be held back in confinement until they face their charges and it's determined whether they're guilty or not."
Recently, the state of California offered various jurisdictions up to $2 million in grant money. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office did not apply. Gascón explained the department did not realize it was eligible, and that when when it did, the choice was purposefully made to not apply.
Gascón points to many things as to why, including the resources the Los Angeles County Sheriff and Los Angeles Police departments already have, the capacity to hire in a timely fashion and the way bureaucracy works.
That is not a sentiment echoed by Rachel Michelin, President of the California Retailers Association. Michelin is disappointed Gascón did not apply for the funding, saying more resources are needed to combat retail theft and other issues throughout L.A. County. She believes that money could have augmented some of the other funding in the county.
Michelin also believes the amount of retail theft happening in the state may be more than what we realize. She thinks this is due to either retailers not reporting the crimes or police reports not taken at the scene of these thefts.
Retail thefts, Michelin notes, take more than just an economic toll. Many store owners and workers, particularly those who work at small businesses, feel personally or emotionally victimized. She believes there needs to be harsher penalties for thieves because many now just casually walk through a store, knowing they will likely not face major consequence for their behavior.
One thing everyone agrees upon: store owners and workers should not fight back or try to detain the thieves.
Watch the full interview in the media player at the top of this page.