The rise and fall of various types of crime in Los Angeles can generate headlines, but abrupt shifts in individual neighborhoods are often overlooked. In the new feature “What’s going on with?” Crosstown examines the data involved in some of these trends.
Shoplifting soared in Los Angeles in 2023. By Nov. 30, there had been more than 10,600 reports, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data. In all of 2022 there were about 6,400 incidents. The pre-pandemic years of 2015–2019 each produced about 6,500 to 7,000 reports.
Densely populated Downtown and Canoga Park, where there is a large mall, recorded the greatest number of incidents—665 and 663, respectively. Ranking third was Sawtelle, a compact community just west of the 405 Freeway known to many for its collection of Japanese restaurants. There were 609 shoplifting reports in the neighborhood from Jan. 1–Nov. 30 (full December figures are not yet available).
That is already more than double the total in 2022, and is over eight times the number of shoplifting reports in the neighborhood in 2019.
From 2010 through March 2022 there were never more than 12 monthly shoplifting reports in Sawtelle. There was a modest increase for a year, and the count has skyrocketed since last June, when there were 44 incidents.
The figure has been north of 80 since August, and reached 102 incidents in November. That accounted for 10.8% of the reports in the entire city that month.
Where it’s happening and who’s affected
The activity has been concentrated. According to police data, nearly 91% of all reports in Sawtelle from Jan. 1–Nov. 30, 2023 were on the 11800 block of Santa Monica Boulevard. Although police data does not detail specific stores or addresses, the block holds a Target.
According to police data, other business categories in Sawtelle with 10 or more shoplifting reports during the year included markets, drug stores and electronics stores.
Increased retail crime has been reported in many cities across the country, and has been a factor in some store closures. Target in October closed the doors to nine of its locations in California, New York, Washington and Oregon. Between April and October, a serial thief hit more than 25 Target stores across Southern California, sometimes grabbing items and running out before employees could stop him.
Target’s corporate headquarters did not respond to Crosstown’s requests for comment.
What they’re saying
Jay Handal, who owns five cannabis stores and serves on the West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, described the situation that has compelled many area retail outlets to bolster security.
“Everything is locked up. It’s almost impossible to get anything directly from a counter,” Handal said.
He added that many stores now employ more security guards, and some outlets have additional staff monitoring aisles. Businesses are feeling the strain of spending on security while suffering inventory losses, Handal said.
“It’s costing a lot more money for operations at this time, when they’re still trying to recover from COVID,” he said.
Why it’s happening
Worsening retail theft has been a problem across California, and the response has been multi-faceted. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would direct more than $267 million to 55 law enforcement agencies across the state to combat the crime trend. In August, multiple Los Angeles area law enforcement agencies formed an Organized Retail Crimes Task Force.
Although Sawtelle has experienced a stark uptick in shoplifting, numerous other neighborhoods have also felt the pain.
In Los Angeles in 2023, the category of Personal/Other Theft, which includes retail crime, increased by 15%, according to LAPD Compstat data. Experts and law enforcement officials have attributed the rise to multiple factors, among them a zero-bail policy for low-level non-violent crimes and an LAPD staffing shortage. Others have questioned whether the concerns of rampant retail theft are overblown.
Under California law, theft of merchandise or property valued below $950 is designated as petty theft, a misdemeanor. Of the Sawtelle shoplifting incidents in the first 11 months of 2023, 572 involved petty theft, according to police data. Just 6% involved grand theft.
Of the 609 shoplifting reports in Sawtelle from Jan. 1–Nov. 30, only seven, or about 1%, resulted in an arrest, according to police data. Citywide, about 8% of all shoplifting incidents reported to the LAPD in the same period resulted in an arrest.
The LAPD declined Crosstown’s request for comment on the rise of shoplifting in Sawtelle and across Los Angeles.
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.