Shoplifting incident with 80 suspects is worst they’ve seen, retired police say


A shoplifting incident involving 80 suspects accused of grabbing items and rushing out of a California Nordstrom store in under a minute Saturday night is among the worst such episodes they’ve heard of, two longtime police officers say.

“These type of smash-and-grabs, I have not seen in my 45 years in law enforcement,” said Andrew Scott, who was the police chief in Boca Raton, Florida, from 1998 to 2006. “I haven’t seen smash-and-grabs in such a mass scale. … They ultimately blitzkrieg a particular location. … And in the matter of minutes, in just a couple of minutes, they can literally steal hundreds of thousands of dollars of product.”

About 80 looters descended on a Nordstrom about 9 p.m. in the city’s Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek police said. An employee was pepper sprayed and two others were punched and kicked, a police spokesperson said. The suspects were in and out of the store within a minute, police said. Officials didn’t specify the estimated total value of items stolen.

The incident is among a cluster of the quick-hit robberies that has been plaguing the San Francisco area all year at high-end retail stores and pharmacies.

The shoplifting at Nordstrom was “clearly a planned event,” police said.

Timothy T. Williams Jr., who spent 29 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before retiring from its Robbery-Homicide Division, said he’s also never seen that many suspects accused in a shoplifting incident.

“That’s a hell of a lot,” Williams said. “Businesses need to invest in displays that are shatterproof,” he said. “That will be a deterrent. They can’t go in and do smash-and-grab because nothing is smashing for them to grab.”

Walnut Creek police said three suspects were arrested in connection to Saturday night’s incident.

NBC Bay Area reported a jewelry store in the Southland Mall in Hayward, California, was targeted by about nine suspects Sunday afternoon who used hammers to smash cases before fleeing. Neither Hayward police, nor Walnut Creek police, returned requests for comment Monday to see whether the two incidents may be connected.

Walnut Creek is about 30 miles northeast of Hayward.

In October, Walgreens announced it would close five stores in San Francisco because of organized retail theft.

Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso said in a statement at the time:

“Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average” despite large increases in security.

In an incident that seemed particularly shocking in San Francisco, a group of shoplifters in July were recorded on cellphone video sprinting out of a Neiman Marcus with thousands of dollars of items in tow.

The thieves dashed out of the high-end department store in Union Square lugging “several tens of thousands of dollars” in stolen merchandise, police said.

That same month, city leaders pushed back against critics who argued the shoplifting incidents were out of control. City officials released a midyear public safety report, which, according to police data, showed that overall thefts were down 9 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2020.

San Francisco police did not respond to a request for comment on Monday for updated theft statistics.

Although the thefts have been clustered in California, they’ve also been seen elsewhere.

More than a dozen people in a Chicago suburb were captured last week on surveillance video grabbing bags and wiping shelves clear at a Louis Vuitton store.

The thefts took place Wednesday afternoon, Oak Brook police said in a statement. The merchandise stolen was estimated at $120,000, police said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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