The stories came in a flurry this past weekend, describing mobs of organized thieves targeting retail businesses in multiple corners of the Bay Area. But some incidents in Oakland suggest a more loose affiliation between suspects, and group tactics that perhaps came together on social media.
Authorities have yet to connect the dots between organized groups of what appear to be teen thieves who over the past year have targeted multiple high-end retailers in San Francisco and on the Peninsula. And there seems likely to be a connection between those incidents and what we saw in Union Square, Hayward, San Jose, and Walnut Creek over the weekend. Authorities are now suggesting that a larger fencing ring is likely preparing to resell the high-end loot that was purloined in online marketplaces, and there may be evidence of some of these items already showing up for sale.
"They're not usually keeping it for themselves," says Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, speaking to ABC 7 about how these theft rings work. "They're selling it. There's a lot of places that these items go."
Michelin explained that high-end retailers have been tagging some of their merchandise with GPS locator technology that has allowed them to see where the goods end up.
But over in Oakland this past weekend, coordinated caravans of vehicles struck multiple cannabis businesses, as well as other businesses. And while some of the suspects involved were armed and exchanged fire with security guards, these heists seem to be less like fencing operations and more like social-media-fueled looting — and one incident appears to have grown out of a sideshow in East Oakland.
As KRON4 reports, Oakland’s Blunts And Moore dispensary near the Oakland Coliseum was hit early Sunday following a sideshow in the area. The sideshow happened around 5 a.m., and shortly thereafter, suspects began scaling a fence at the dispensary and breaking in to the business — which previously was hit by looters in 2020 following the civil unrest relating to the death of George Floyd.
Dispensary owner Alphonso “Tucky” Blunt tells KRON4 that he had heard of multiple cannabis businesses being hit in Oakland on Saturday and Sunday, and he connects it to unrest in the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict on Friday in Wisconsin.
A group of around 100 protesters gathered in downtown Oakland Friday night to protest the verdict, but that demonstration was nowhere near the scale and chaos of what the city saw in late May and early June 2020.
Roving caravans of vehicles were also reported targeting cannabis businesses on Friday in Oakland, as Bay Area News Group reports. Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said that "hundreds" of vehicles were involved in these caravans on Friday and then again on Saturday night. And with shootouts with security happening at some of the dispensaries, Armstrong said that suspects had fired "more than 175 shots" during the course of the robberies Friday.
On Saturday, other businesses were targeted by the caravans as well, including pharmacies and other retail stores, Armstrong said. In one instance, a robbery suspect was injured by gunfire while exchanging fire with a dispensary's security team.
"We’re not going to tolerate this type of activity within the city of Oakland," Armstrong said, per Bay Area News Group. "We’re going to respond."
The lawlessness was widespread starting on Friday, and in that respect was reminiscent of the unrest following the killing of George Floyd. But the targeting of high-end retailers has been going on for months and no doubt has a profit component linked the holidays.
"I think we’re seeing more and more use of social media that can coordinate these brazen crimes," Michelin said, speaking to Bay Area News Group.
Michelin says the San Francisco-Oakland metro area has the second-highest annual losses to retailers from organized retail crime in the country, and she pegged the number at $3.6 billion.
In San Francisco on Friday, the stores hit included Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, and Burberry, as ABC News reports. In Walnut Creek, it was Nordstrom on Saturday, with 50 to 80 assailants reportedly involved. And on Sunday, Lululemon was hit at Santana Row in San Jose, and a jewelry store was targeted in Hayward.
Eight arrests each were made in Oakland and San Francisco in connection with the robberies, and at least three people have been arrested in connection with the Nordstrom swarm-attack on Saturday. SF authorities believe there are at least 22 more individuals who were involved in Friday heists in SF.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin has vowed to charge all eight with felonies. And Boudin went on Chris Cuomo's CNN show Monday night to talk about the crime wave and how this widespread trend will need police and judges to their jobs as well as prosecutors, to hold criminals accountable.
"We're seeing these kinds of brazen robberies and burglaries all across the country," Boudin said. "What we need to do is to make sure that every agency plays its role. The police have the job of arresting and investigating these crimes, and when they do that, and when they bring me and my office arrests, we file charges and we prosecute. And then, it's up to the judges to give the appropriate sentence."
Boudin said he was focused on "dismantling the organized crime networks" and fencing operations that make these crimes profitable. And when pressed about whether his office was prosecuting fewer larcenies and petty thefts, Boudin said "That simply isn't true," and it only appears that way if you cherrypick statistics — as the Recall Boudin camp is doing — from 2020, when these types of crimes were down across the board. Boudin said that by 2021 stats, his office is prosecuting these kinds of crimes at higher rates than most other DAs around the Bay Area and the country.
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin says he’s doing everything in his power to keep the city safe amid a surge in organized retail theft.— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) November 23, 2021
“If people in my city don’t feel safe, if they can’t go about their business and live their lives in safety…we have work to do.” pic.twitter.com/kE76KdeCDY
Photo: Scott Rodgerson