How bad are the ‘mob’ thefts at department stores?

Incidents may be limited, but large Los Angeles retailers get hit by shoplifting and other crimes

Illustration of jewelry with a red blaring security light


The audacious Aug. 12 afternoon robbery of the Nordstrom in the Westfield Topanga Shopping Center sparked headlines and outrage. It came on the heels of two other so-called “flash mob” thefts: On Aug. 8, a group of masked thieves ransacked and stole more than $300,000 worth of merchandise from an Yves Saint Laurent store in the Americana at Brand in Glendale. On Aug. 1, a Gucci outlet in the Westfield mall in Century City was hit.


The rash of thefts has generated national attention, but they may be no surprise to staff and operators of department stores in Los Angeles. Crime at those destinations, most frequently shoplifting, has been occurring at an unprecedented level this year.


From 2010–2022, the highest monthly number of department store crime reports in the city was the 369 recorded in January 2016. But that figure has been eclipsed in each of the last six months according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data.


Line chart of monthly crimes at Los Angeles department stores


The peak occurred in March, when there were 477 department store crime reports, and the count stayed above 400 for the next three months. In July there were 385 incidents.  


Forming a task force

The situation has prompted a crisis-level response. Mayor Karen Bass called the Nordstrom robbery “completely unacceptable.” Last Thursday, she and a coalition of city and county political and law enforcement leaders announced the formation of a multi-agency task force.


Retail theft not only affects businesses financially but also has a broader impact on the overall well-being of our community,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi. “The Organized Retail Crimes Task Force will work closely with retailers to enhance security measures, share information, and develop strategies to deter these crimes.”


Separately, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would triple California Highway Patrol resources that combat organized retail theft in Los Angeles.


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Shoplifting and retail theft have been soaring not just in Los Angeles, but in many cities across the country. Stolen items are often quickly resold, whether luxury goods hawked online, or shampoo and deodorant offered at swap meets and sidewalk tables.


Los Angeles retailers are suffering losses like never before. From Jan. 1–July 31, there were 2,912 reports of crime in department stores. That already exceeds the full annual count every year since 2017 (figures of course dropped during the pandemic).


Bar chart of annual department store crimes in Los Angeles


It is also 123% more than the 1,307 department store crime reports in the first seven months of last year. The count in the equivalent period in 2019 was 1,561.


Horizontal bar chart of department crimes in the first seven months of each year in Los Angeles since 2016


Mostly petty theft, but not always

Most department store crimes are non-violent in nature. According to police data, 2,071 of the incidents in the city this year, or 71% of the total, were petty theft shoplifting, with stolen merchandise worth less than $950. 


In another 351 incidents the shoplifting was classified as a felony, meaning the value of stolen goods exceeds $950.


However, a number of incidents have been more dangerous. There were 114 robbery reports at department stores from Jan. 1–July 31, and 47 instances of battery. Nine crimes involved aggravated assault or assault with a deadly weapon.


Media reports said that during the Nordstrom theft, one person used bear spray on a security guard. In the first seven months of the year, nine department store crimes involved what the LAPD labeled mace or pepper spray. A knife or sharp object was identified as the weapon on 21 occasions. A firearm was used 10 times.


The most frequent neighborhood for department store crimes in the first seven months of the year was Downtown, with 299 reports. There were 292 incidents in Canoga Park.


However, in the period from March–July, when department store crimes peaked, Van Nuys suffered 223 incidents, more than any other neighborhood. 


Table of Los Angeles neighborhoods with the most department store crimes form March-July 2023


Although LAPD data does not identify specific retail outlets, 139 reports in Van Nuys during that five-month period were for the block of 5700 N. Sepulveda Blvd., where a Target is located. Another 77 were at 14900 Raymer St. That block also has a Target.


How we did it: We examined publicly available crime data from the Los Angeles Police Department from July 1, 2010–July 31, 2023. 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.


Have questions about our data or want to know more? Write to us at