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SMPD Gets Over $6 Million to Combat Retail Theft

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By Jorge Casuso

September 18, 2023 -- The Santa Monica Police Department will receive more than $6 million in State funding to combat organized retail theft in the city, police officials announced last week.

The $6.125 million is part of more than $267 million awarded to 55 cities and counties across the state, "the largest-ever single investment" to combat the growing problem, Governor Gavin Newsom's office said Tuesday.

The funding will be used to "hire more police, make more arrests, and secure more felony charges," so "when shameless criminals walk out of stores with stolen goods, they’ll walk straight into jail cells,” Newsom said.

The funding comes amid a wave of rampant retail crimes that have forced stores in California to shutter or lock down items, as brazen offenders turn to social media to post courses in robbery, according to news reports.

SMPD will use the money to "directly support the ongoing targeted, innovative, and technology-based efforts," including to " further the establishment of the Santa Monica Analytical Real-Time Center, or SMART Center," police officials said.

The center will enhance surveillance capabilities by using existing and coming technology to "help aggregate data and coordinate police response," officials said.

The technology includes closed-circuit television cameras and a video management system, as well as automated license plate readers, both mobile and at fixed locations, officials said.

It also includes unmanned aircraft systems, which "can respond to incidents quickly and start collecting information for officers," and Live911, a program that "allows officers to hear 911 calls as they are being received."

"There is no understating the benefit our entire community will realize with the establishment of the SMART Center," said Police Chief Ramon Batista.

"This cutting-edge hub of information will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of public safety in Santa Monica,” Batista said.

According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, robberies of commercial establishments were up in 9 of the state's 15 largest counties in 2022, compared to 2019.

Los Angeles County -- which is the state's largest county -- had the highest commercial robbery rate with 60 reported crimes per 100,000 residents, a 13 percent increase.

"In sum, the 2022 data shows that while California’s shoplifting rate jumped notably in 2022, it remains lower than it was at any point in the decade before the pandemic," according to the report.

However, the commercial burglary rate "reached its highest level since 2008, and the commercial robbery rate rose to roughly where it was in 2017," the report said, noting that "the challenges of retail theft and robbery appear to be widespread."

While LA County had the state's highest commercial robbery rate, the LA District Attorney's Office did not apply for funding, which will provide 13 district attorneys’ offices as much as $2,050,000 each.

The funding will be used to establish new "vertical prosecution units" dedicated to prosecuting organized retail theft, according to the Governor's office.

The funding also will be used to to establish “intelligence centers” that serve as "prosecution hubs for all related investigations within a county."

Last Tuesday, as Newsom was announcing the new grant funding, reforms to Prop 47 proposed by Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Huntingon Beach) to combat retail thefts was killed 2 to 1 on the Senate Floor.

The changes to AB 1726 "would have elevated the charge for serial thieves with three or more prior theft-related convictions, turning a fourth conviction into a felony offense,” Nguyen said.

The bill is the latest effort to reform, repeal or reverse Prop 47 -- titled “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” -- that re-categorized some nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors, including all thefts under $950.

Santa Monica voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, with nearly 79 percent of the vote, compared to 60 percent statewide.

The rise in retail crime, especially in cities and states that implemented criminal justice reforms such as Prop 47, have spawned bootleg online courses in robbery, according to a report in the New York Post last week.

The hashtag “borrow tip and tricks” has amassed 8.9 billion views on on the popular platform located in China, the Post reported last Tuesday.

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