Earlier this year, alarm bells sounded as shoplifting began skyrocketing in Los Angeles. Thefts from stores in January and February were higher than at any point in at least a decade.
Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. In March, there were 967 reports in the city, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data. In April the figure ticked down to 849 incidents, but that is still the second-highest monthly count since at least 2010.
The worst year for shoplifting in the past decade was 2016, but current figures show far more activity. From Jan. 1–April 30, 2016, there were 2,421 reports. The count in that period this year was 3,490—a 44% increase.
The matter has drawn the attention of Police Chief Michel Moore.
“We believe it’s organized. It’s organized opportunists, if you will,” Moore said last Tuesday during the meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission. “The top locations in our retail thefts area are major stores such as Nordstrom, Sephora, Target. These are major brands. We see thefts that do occur at mom and pop stores as well.”
The department chronicles shoplifting in a category called Personal/Other Thefts. According to LAPD Compstat data, there were 12,411 incidents from Jan. 1–May 20. That is a 13.4% increase over the same period last year (numbers are likely an undercount, as some lower-value crimes may not be reported to police).
Los Angeles is not alone. Reports of retail theft have been rampant in San Francisco. An encounter there turned tragic last month, when suspected shoplifter Banko Brown was shot and killed by a Walgreens security guard. The district attorney’s office said the guard acted in self-defense, after Brown threatened to stab him.
The impacts of small-time crime
Nationwide, stores are placing everything from razor blades to baby formula to laundry detergent in locked cases. Various retailers have complained about the impact the practice is having on the bottom line.
Some retail theft involves highly publicized smash-and-grab incidents, such as the stealing of designer handbags from a Canoga Park Nordstrom in 2021. But that is the exception rather than the rule.
In the first four months of 2023, the LAPD classified 2,796 shoplifting reports as petty theft, meaning the value of the goods stolen was below $950. Just 686 were identified as grand theft.
There is a reason for this, according to Moore.
“People often think of organized retail theft as they’re targeting expensive jewelry,” said Moore. “In reality they’re targeting things like basic clothing elements such as T-shirts, deodorant, sanitary supplies that can be easily resold, whether on the Internet or by more unscrupulous retailers who purchase it from these organized crews.”
Moore said that stolen goods are also resold at swap meets or by sidewalk vendors.
From Jan. 1–April 30 of this year, Downtown was the site of 312 shoplifting reports, more than any other neighborhood in the city. The community’s high count reflects the large number of stores in a small geographic area. More than 240 incidents took place in the vicinity of Seventh and Figueroa streets, near a pair of outdoor malls.
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.