News reports about retail theft were inescapable in 2023, and when the year came to an end Los Angeles had entered unprecedented territory: There were 11,945 shoplifting reports in the city, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data.
That represents an 81% increase over the previous year. The 2022 figure was consistent with annual totals in the five years before the pandemic.
Overall retail crime—shoplifting is just one type—is tabulated in a category the LAPD labels Personal/Other Theft. That rose by a comparatively measured 15% in 2023. According to LAPD Compstat data, there were more than 35,000 such reports.
A series of summer mob thefts of area department stores and other retail outlets drew national attention. In response, the LAPD in August joined with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, police agencies from Santa Monica and Burbank, and other entities to form an Organized Retail Crimes Task Force.
Around the same time, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was tripling California Highway Patrol resources in the Los Angeles area to combat organized retail crime.
At last month’s announcement of year-end crime statistics, Police Chief Michel Moore pointed to results from the stepped-up efforts.
“What we have seen is since August more than 600 arrests and recovered 29 firearms, and importantly recovered more than $5.5 million in property,” Moore stated. “These arrests range from organized high-value thefts to the more common shoplifter, and often involve serial and habitual offenders.”
The law enforcement partnership may have stanched some of the group thefts that were caught on video. At the crime statistics press conference Mayor Karen Bass stated, “The task force that the chief set up has absolutely reduced the smash and grabs. There has been a 33% reduction in flash robberies.”
However, shoplifting in the city has barely wavered. In every month from March through December there were at least 949 reports, and the counts in November and December both surpassed 1,000.
In the years before COVID-19, the city often saw 500-600 reports each month.
Activity last year was spread across Los Angeles. There were 767 shoplifting reports in Canoga Park, which is home to a Westfield shopping center. The second-highest count was the 747 incidents in Downtown, another retail hub.
According to police data, 4,279 reports, or 36% of the 2023 total, happened in department stores. There were 1,263 incidents in clothing stores.
Reselling stolen goods
Shoplifting is not just a Los Angeles issue, of course. There have been copious reports about thefts in the Bay Area, and last week Newsom described witnessing a shoplifter make off with merchandise in a Target in Sacramento. He recounted how, when he asked the store clerk why it was happening, the clerk blamed the policies of the governor, not aware of who she was speaking with.
There appears to be no single cause for the increase, which is also being used as an election issue. Some have suggested that thieves do not fear arrest or prosecution. Others say certain store policies not to confront retail thieves could embolden shoplifters.
At the crime statistics press conference, Moore said he has worked with the state Attorney General, the L.A. County District Attorney and the City Attorney on efforts, “to counter the chronic and habitual offender with meaningful prosecutions to counter the misconception of a lack of consequences.”
Official LAPD shoplifting reports are believed to be an undercount, as they only represent instances where someone called the police. Certain store owners or managers may not contact law enforcement when low-value items are taken.
According to police data, 2,033 shoplifting incidents last year, or 17% of the total, were designated as grand theft, meaning the value of the stolen goods was more than $950. The rest were classified as petty theft, with the value below that threshold.
Police have described numerous destinations for stolen goods. Luxury handbags and other upscale items may be sold online. Pilfered personal hygiene products can be hawked at sidewalk stands.
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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