California Governor Gavin Newsom has vowed to increase police presence in "highly trafficked" shopping districts across the state. The announcement comes after a wave of mass thefts targeting high-end stores swept through the city of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities over the past few days.
Over the weekend, one of the largest heists, involving an estimated 80 people, took place in the Bay Area. The group stormed through and ransacked a Nordstrom department store before fleeing in several vehicles.
Prior to the Nordstrom heist, separate incidents of robberies, theft, and break-ins were reported throughout several Bay Area cities. People carrying hammers and crowbars ransacked luxury stores, stealing jewelry, high-end bags, clothing, and other merchandise.
The weekend thefts began at 8 p.m. on Friday in San Francisco, when gangs smashed into stores including a Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Bloomingdale's in the downtown area. Thefts were also reported in Union Square, an upscale retail district popular with visitors and bustling with Christmas shoppers.
Witnesses shared videos to social media of police officers taking one suspect from a waiting car, as well as individuals running with stolen items in their arms.
Following the robberies over the weekend, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said that they would soon be limiting access to Union Square streets, and they will be adding more officer patrols throughout the area.
Republicans in California have claimed that the thefts have rendered the state a more dangerous place to live, work, and raise a family, mainly blaming Governor Newsom and other Democrats for their lack of action.
Newsom said earlier in the week that he has already talked with shop owners, who have requested increased police patrols. After the thefts, he said, the California Highway Patrol increased patrols throughout the surrounding highway, and they have already sought the help of other government agencies.
In July, the governor had passed legislation authorizing prosecutors to pursue those who conspire with others to steal goods. He claims that the state budget this year contained millions of dollars for local officials to combat retail theft and that his January budget plan will include an exponential rise in funding to help towns and counties combat looting and robberies.
The president of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, Ben Dugan, said that retailers lose about $65 billion each year to organized theft. He said that criminal flash mobs are quickly becoming a national trend and the government and law enforcement need to step in to stop the growing threat.