By Juliette Goodrich and Shawn Chitnis
LIVERMORE (KPIX) — A violent smash-and-grab robbery spree targeting retail shops across the Bay Area has shoppers, store employees and business owners on edge at the start the holiday shopping season.
San Francisco’s Union Square was one of the first shopping areas hit last Friday night when a Louis Vuitton store was among several shops that were looted. Over the weekend, businesses boarded up their windows as police stepped up patrols in response to the violent spree.
At the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore Monday, police could be seen in patrol cars at nearby freeway on ramps and off ramps, just in case a group tries to hit the outlets and take off on I-580.
But shoppers said they were very aware anything could happen.
The holiday shopping experience has unquestionably been tainted by the recent smash and grab crime spree over the weekend.
“My friends were actually there when there was a robbery they had to be stuck in a store during a robbery,” said one Pleasanton shopper, referring to the incident at the mall in Hayward.
On Monday, she was out at the mall shopping with her mom and sister.
“It’s been alarming, so that’s why we are here during the daytime,” she said.
When asked if the crime spree had changed her shopping hours and habits, she replied, “Most definitely. I just got back from college and I was just made aware of everything that has been going on. It’s kind of upsetting,” she explained.
Many shoppers said they are worried about the growing trend of mass robberies and the looming question: where will they hit next?
“I was surprised, because I never thought it would happen in Walnut Creek. I don’t think it will happen here in Pleasanton Or Dublin,” said another shopper.
But there was an attempt at the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton just after 1 a.m. Monday morning. A group of nine people were seen on surveillance video breaking into the mall, but they found that all of the stories had gates up that prevented entry.
Pleasanton police say nothing was stolen. No arrests have been made in the case, but are studying surveillance video and trying to identify suspects.
“It’s devastating to see what has happened lately,” one shopper told KPIX.
However, authorities are trying to address the situation with more of a police presence visible throughout the Tri-Valley area at various shopping destinations.
While Black Friday sales are happening at some retailers, it may not be a driving force for shoppers. Some stores saying they will simply be extending the Black Friday sales through the entire holiday season.
At least one shopper told KPIX she wouldn’t be going to stores.
“No Black Friday shopping,” she said. “Stay safe!”
Shoppers may have returned to Bay Area retail destinations like the Broadway Plaza after a mass robbery at the Nordstrom on Saturday, but they remain concerned it could happen again as police continue to look for suspects.
“Typically when we see these types of things happening, they are well organized. They are larger groups,” said Howard Jordan, a former Oakland Police chief who now runs his own consulting firm. “This has to be a regional approach, right? It’s not just San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Oakland. It’s everywhere.”
Jordan told KPIX 5 on Monday he wants to see more coordination with law enforcement agencies to try and track down suspects before they hit another store. He also echoed the calls for tough prosecution of anyone found guilty of these crimes. Rewards for the public to bring forward information could also help in the response, he suggested.
“The state is supplementing those efforts and we are going to be more aggressive still in this space to help support cities and the prosecution of folks,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference on Monday. “I have no sympathy, no empathy whatsoever people smashing and grabbing, stealing people’s items, creating havoc and terror on our streets. None. Period. Full stop.”
The governor joined local leaders in his promise for more security and a larger police presence at shopping centers leading into the holidays. Critics of local leaders say they have a history of failing to take criminals to task for non-violent charges.
“If they arrest all 80 and prosecute all 80 to the maximum, then I’ll come out and commend them for that publicly but until then they don’t have a track record of doing that,” said Contra Costa County GOP Chairman Matt Shupe.
KPIX 5 reached out to the district attorneys in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties for comment on this issue. Both declined interview requests, explaining they wanted to wait until the investigations were closed on mass robbery cases in their respective jurisdictions.
Jordan says some of the work needed to stop these crimes is already happening but he wants to wait to see what charges come through on suspects in all of the cases from over the weekend. He hopes that in another month, many more suspects will be in custody.
“I would be surprised if the departments in the Bay Area aren’t already working on a plan to address this type of activity. I would be very shocked if they’re not,” he said. “Social media has probably been the biggest vehicle or avenue for criminals to communicate.”
State and local leaders hope these crimes won’t keep shoppers away from Bay Area malls and retail districts as so many businesses hope the holidays will help them recover from a difficult year and half during the pandemic. Jordan says the public should be careful but should not be afraid and stay home.
“You should enjoy your life and carry on your life the way you normally can. Be mindful of what’s around you. Be safe,” he said.
Walnut Creek police on Monday announced that the dozens of looters who rushed the Nordstrom on Saturday night made off with between $100,000 ad $200,000 worth of merchandise.
Though the city began placing officers inside Nordstrom earlier this year after similar smash-and-grab robberies, no officers were on site just before 9 p.m. Saturday when the coordinated attack took place.
Connors said it’s not clear whether there’s a connection between the Nordstrom robbery and other incidents happening around the Bay Area. She said police believed another attempt would be made at Nordstrom Sunday night, and police blocked off ether end of the street and put its ready and react team on alert. No trouble was reported.
“I don’t know if that made them divert, or what happened,” Connors said. “We had some information that that same group might come back. We prepared.”