Examiner Staff and Wire Report
Just ahead of the holiday shopping season, a string of high-profile retail thefts have left consumers shaken, retailers concerned and police on high alert.
A regional crime spree started Friday when the Louis Vuitton store in Union Square was hit in a brazen smash-and-grab robbery. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Tuesday announced felony charges against five suspects in the Union Square thefts, as well as against four additional suspects in other thefts around The City Friday night.
“These are not petty thefts,” he said. “This is not misdemeanor conduct. This is felony conduct and we are charging felonies today.”
Outside of The City, on Saturday night dozens of looters rushed Walnut Creek’s Nordstrom and made off with $100,000 to $200,000 worth of merchandise, Walnut Creek police said. On Sunday, eight to 10 suspects with hammers hit Sam’s Jewelry at Hayward’s Southland Mall. About an hour later, suspects rushed high-end athletic apparel store Lululemon in San Jose’s Santana Row, making off with $40,000 worth of merchandise.
Gov. Gavin Newsom weighed in on the Bay Area robberies on Monday while speaking at a vaccine clinic in San Francisco.
“We cannot allow this to continue. Period. Full stop,” Newsom said. “These are crimes of opportunity but they are well-armed. I have no empathy and no sympathy for these kinds of gangs. They need to be held accountable. There is nothing right about this.”
In July, Newsom and California lawmakers passed AB 331, which extends the sunset date of the crime of organized retail theft to Jan. 1, 2026. California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force works with local law enforcement agencies to investigate organized retail crime.
The Task Force has been a part of 668 investigations resulting in 252 arrests, as well as the recovery of over $16.3 million in stolen merchandise, over the past three years, according to the Governor’s Office.
“We met with retailers over the weekend and asked what they would like and they want to see more (security) presence. That’s why today you will see an increased presence around retailers around the Bay, so people see a visible presence as a deterrent,” Newsom said, adding there will be an “exponential increase” in funding to address this issue in the upcoming state budget.
Justice response has been firm. In Walnut Creek, police arrested three suspects Saturday night, at least one with a gun, as dozens more fled.
Lt. Hollie Connors said up to 80 masked bandits blocked the street up and down Broadway Plaza with up to 25 vehicles that had license plates covered from possible identification. Though the city began placing officers inside Nordstrom earlier this year after similar smash-and-grab robberies, no officers were on site just before 9 p.m. Saturday when the coordinated attack took place.
Three employees were injured, including one who was pepper-sprayed.
Walnut Creek Mayor Kevin Wilk said the city will keep Broadway Plaza free of cars at least through the holidays.
“This is really all hands on deck,” Wilk said. “We’ll have more police downtown. We’ll be monitoring online chatter and communicating with all our stores.”
Wilk said he expects more arrests as video evidence is analyzed.
“We need the DA to charge and prosecute these cases to the full extent of the law,” Wilk said. “If people see they’re going to be caught, they’ll think twice. We need to make people feel safe in Walnut Creek. We demand it.”
The hunt for suspects was also on in San Jose where four people got away in a waiting car before police arrived on the scene.
“We’re not going to forget about it. We’re going to investigate it,” San Jose Police Department Spokesperson Christian Camarillo. “The No. 1 mission is to find, arrest and bring them back here.”
Camarillo noted there is likely a larger organized robbery scheme in San Jose.
At the same time as the Santana Row break-in, suspicious activity was reported across the street at Valley Fair mall, where four to five cars were seen driving without license plates.
“Common sense would dictate what was going on — and Valley Fair at the same time it was going on across the street at Lululemon — are more than likely related to each other,” Camarillo said.
The potential for robbery at the North San Jose mall was prevented because mall security noticed the suspicious activity. Still, there were some items taken from Sunglass Hut.
“We don’t know how it happened or how those folks got in there,” Camarillo said. “But they saw law enforcement, they left.”
Camarillo said it’s the first time San Jose has been hit with organized robbery like this. During the holiday season, shopping centers do have additional security but it’s unclear whether SJPD will beef up security more after this incident.
Camarillo advised residents report suspicious activity right away and avoid confrontation as “it is not worth you losing your life or being seriously hurt for a material item.”
Examiner Staff Writers Sydney Johnson and Ben Schneider, and Bay City News contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of suspects charged in the Union Square thefts. Five people were charged in connection to the thefts in Union Square, and four were charged in connection to other thefts around The City the same night.