Operation ‘Wrecking Ball’ slams into retail thieves

An eight-month long operation targeting retail theft and the fencing of stolen goods has resulted in the arrest of 12 people and the seizure of $300,000 worth of stolen property in San Francisco and on the Peninsula, officials announced Thursday.

The arrests and seizures came after approximately 80 officers executed seven search warrants in San Francisco and one in Daly City on Dec. 5 as part of a collaborative effort involving the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco law enforcement agencies. Twenty-eight additional fugitives are still being sought, the agencies said.

The investigation used undercover surveillance to identify suspects allegedly stealing from stores around Union Square and selling to fences in United Nations Plaza at Seventh and Market streets. Stolen items recovered from search warrants included high-end items such as luxury handbags and cell phones, but also everyday items like disposable razors, makeup, and over-the-counter cold medicine. Officers also found $16,000 in cash.

“What you’re seeing is the very beginning of a great deal of effort that will continue,” District Attorney George Gascon said at a press conference. “Prosecution charges will be coming in the next few days and months.”

Gascon said most property crime in The City is committed by a small number of highly organized people,

“During the operation, we learned that the sale of property stolen here in San Francisco expanded beyond our neighboring Bay Area cities, (and was found) as far east as Texas, as far north as Seattle, and as far south as Los Angeles,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said.

Dubbed “Operation Wrecking Ball,” the multi-agency task force – made up of CHP, SFPD, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, and San Francisco District Attorney’s office – focused on retail theft but also included property stolen from vehicles and residential burglaries throughout the city.

“It’s sometimes hard to comprehend how complex these things really are,” Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said about the inter-agency collaboration. “It seems like something that should be so simple and straightforward, but it often isn’t.”

“We will never eliminate all property crime, but we know that by going after these organized groups, we can have a significant impact not only on the quality of life of our community but in crime in general,” Gascon said.

Merchandise recovered as part of “Operation Wrecking Ball,” a San Francisco Police joint retail theft investigation with the SF District Attorney’s Office, SF Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and other law enforcement organizations is displayed at a news conference at SFPD headquarters on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
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