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Santa Rosa officials on guard for retail theft after weekend looting in Bay Area

Sonoma County law enforcement and business leaders are on guard against organized retail theft following high-profile weekend reports of looting in San Francisco, Walnut Creek and San Jose.

There have been no reports of major shoplifting incidents at retailers in Santa Rosa or elsewhere in Sonoma County in recent weeks. However, multiple cities across the Bay Area witnessed a spree of smash-and-grab theft beginning Friday evening through Sunday.

Vehicle access to San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district was limited after reports that groups targeted multiple stores, including a Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Bloomingdale's and Yves Saint Laurent. Around 80 people ransacked a Nordstrom store in Walnut Creek, and dozens descended on retailers in Southland Mall in Hayward while a handful of thieves stole more than $40,000 from a Lululemon in San Jose, local police agencies said.

Walnut Creek police said the heist was "clearly a planned event“ in a statement, while San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin in a Twitter post called the crime in Union Square ”organized.“

Local businesses have been hit by similar if smaller-scale smash-and-grab thefts. Between July and September, more than $15,000 worth of merchandise was stolen from REI on Santa Rosa Avenue in four separate incidents. Police suspected one man to be responsible. And in September, two men, one of whom was armed, held a customer at gunpoint, smashed glass cases and stole jewelry from a store at Santa Rosa Plaza.

“We haven’t had any large-scale retail thefts recently,” said Lt. Dan Marincik, who oversees the Santa Rosa Police Department’s investigations bureau. “But we know it’s prolific, we’re aware of it and we’re always on guard.”

Businesses are also remaining vigilant. Peter Rumble, CEO of Santa Rosa’s Metro Chamber, said that while local business owners don’t have reason to believe the wave of looting will reach here, he is still watching the news closely.

“Certainly we’ve seen some examples in the past of some pretty visible retail thefts — I’m thinking of the Luluemon store in Montgomery Village. Those were blatant midday thefts.”

The athletic apparel outfitter was robbed at least five times between September 2018 and January 2020, with tens of thousands of dollars worth of workout pants taken in organized raids.

“It is certainly a reality, and I’m sure that many retailers are taking some precautions to protect themselves,” Rumble said.

Amid widespread fears of crime waves including shoplifting overwhelming U.S. cities, national data shows that while some violent crime increased in 2020, crime fell overall.

Data collected by the FBI from the Santa Rosa Police Department reveals total violent crime in the city rose 7% from 2019 to 2020, but that rapes decreased, as did most property crimes.

In California, homicides and assaults rose between 2019 and 2020, but crime generally reached historic lows, and property crime declined by 8%, according to data from the FBI, U.S. Census and Department of Justice.

And analysis from the San Francisco Chronicle found homicides and robberies were up in 2020, but most non-violent property crimes were down.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety 

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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