The shoplifters are back in Los Angeles

After a pandemic lull, more stuff is being taken from stores

Illustration of a faceless woman taking a necklace from a store


The city of Los Angeles has numerous popular shopping destinations. From The Grove to the Sherman Oaks Galleria to Melrose to Santee Alley in Downtown, there is no shortage of places to buy stuff. 


But where there are shoppers, there are also shoplifters, and after a lull during the pandemic, thefts are spiking again. 


In August, there were 612 shoplifting reports in the city of Los Angeles, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data. That is the highest monthly total since the 614 in January 2020.


Shoplifting reports in the city fell at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak as businesses shut down. Not surprisingly, the number of incidents in 2022 is on pace to exceed the total in the last two years. From Jan. 1–Aug. 31, there were 3,744 shoplifting reports, a 72.2% increase over the same time last year (a period when many stores were closed or slowly beginning to reopen).


Yet figures remain down from before the pandemic. There were nearly 4,500 shoplifting reports in the first eight months of 2018. 


Bar chart of shoplifting reports from Jan-Aug over 5 years


So far this year, 3,022 shoplifting incidents have been classified as petty theft, in which merchandise worth less than $950 is stolen. On more than 700 occasions, the value of the stolen goods exceeded $950, qualifying the crime as grand theft and a felony. 


Some shoplifting incidents, particularly higher-value crimes, are perpetrated by organized rings that steal merchandise to resell, or even return to the store for a fraudulent refund. Last November Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to crack down on the practice in California. 


In March, a California Highway Patrol investigation of a statewide organized crime ring led to nine people being arrested. They were charged with stealing more than $100,000 worth of merchandise. 


The recent shoplifting peak in the city occurred in 2016. That year, there were more than 7,000 reports.


Line chart of annual shoplifting reports


Head to the mall

In the first eight months of 2022, there were 86 shoplifting grand theft reports in Canoga Park, more than any neighborhood in the city. There is a reason why.


The San Fernando Valley neighborhood is home to Westfield Topanga & The Village. The 2.1 million-square-foot shopping center contains more than 200 stores, including prominent retailers such as Cartier, Gucci, Golden Goose and Louis Vuitton. The mall’s Nordstrom outlet was the target of a high-profile theft last November, when high-end purses were taken.


[Get COVID-19, crime and other stats about where you live with the Crosstown Neighborhood Newsletter] 


This 86 grand theft incidents is down from the past. In the entirety of 2019, Canoga Park recorded 154 shoplifting grand theft reports. In 12 of the last 13 years, Canoga Park has seen more annual grand theft reports than any other neighborhood in Los Angeles (the lone exception was the pandemic year of 2020). 


So far this year, Century City has experienced the second-highest number of grand theft shoplifting reports, with 43. The community is also home to a busy mall.


Densely packed and heavily trafficked Downtown has seen the most overall shoplifting reports (both petty and grand theft), with 439 from Jan. 1–Aug. 31 That is nearly 1.5 times higher than the 294 incidents in Canoga Park.


Shoplifters have also been active this year in Sawtelle (164 total reports), Fairfax (157 reports) and Westlake (146 reports). 


While shoplifting is not defined as a violent crime, incidents can turn dangerous, particularly when a weapon is involved. 


On Oct. 1, a Downtown store owner, Du Lee, was fatally stabbed after confronting two 17-year-old shoplifters who fled his Fashion District business with stolen hair products. 


“During the confrontation, one of the two subjects produced a handgun, to which the store owner was able to effectively disarm the individual,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Los Angeles Police Commission during its meeting on Oct. 4. 


However, Moore said that when Lee fell to the ground, one of the shoplifters “produced a knife or shank” and stabbed him. 


Witnesses were able to identify the suspects, who were taken into custody. 


How we did it: We examined publicly available LAPD data on shoplifting and shoplifting attempts from Jan. 1, 2010–Aug. 31, 2022. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here


LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In Making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.


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