After a spate of brazen smash-and-grab robberies left Los Angeles-area retailers and shoppers on edge last month, officials announced Thursday that they had arrested 14 suspects in connection with the crimes.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, joined by other officials and members of the business community at LAPD headquarters, said none of the 14 suspects remains in custody.
One of the suspects is a juvenile, Moore said. The others either posted bail or were released without bail.
The chief pointed to zero-bail policies that were put in place last year for certain crimes, including burglary, as a public health measure to reduce jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There’s criminal elements that are recognizing that condition and are capitalizing on it," Moore said.
He pointed to one of the incidents as an example — the Nov. 23 smash-and-grab robbery of a Nordstrom department store at the Grove mall in the Fairfax district.
Three suspects were arrested after the robbery and a pursuit that made its way into South Los Angeles, police said. One was a juvenile; two adult suspects have criminal records and were released on zero bail.
Garcetti said the community needs the help of the criminal justice system, judges and jailers.
"There are people who need to be behind bars," he said. "We have opened up a lot of the city because we’re in a better place with COVID. We should be able to also open up our jails, and we should be able to have judges that put people behind those bars as well."
The mayor sought to assure the public that shopping centers and malls are safe places to shop during the holiday season, and he said police have his and the City Council's full support and are being provided the resources they need to bring an end to the robberies.
After the Nordstrom break-in, Moore told the city’s civilian oversight Police Commission that he was stepping up patrols around high-end retailers. Days later, police went on citywide tactical alert the evening of Black Friday in response to the series of robberies, lifting the alert at 2 a.m. Saturday.
During Thursday's news conference, Garcetti urged members of the public to be aware of their surroundings and to spend less time on their phones, and said he and other officials want to strike a balance between calling for public vigilance while not causing panic.
"It's not something we've seen too often," Garcetti said of the robberies. "It's such a bold and brazen crime. It kind of cuts to the heart of what we believe a city should be."
Moore said reports of smash-and-grab robberies started coming in from cities including New York, Chicago and San Francisco in early November.
"These crimes were characterized with multiple suspects working together and coordinating instances involving destruction of property, assault on store employees and caravans of vehicles parking very close to high-end retail stores," the chief said.
Moore said he reached out to his counterparts in those cities to try to get a sense of the dynamics, where and how the crimes were occurring, and how those police departments were responding.
"Unfortunately, that landed on our doorstep beginning the 18th of November, when the first incident occurred of a robbery at the Ksubi clothing store located in Wilshire Division on South La Brea," the chief said. "Their property loss was $10,000. The suspects involved in that incident are still outstanding."
From Nov. 18 to Nov. 28, the Los Angeles Police Department would respond to 11 smash-and-grab robberies, Moore said.
Of the 11 incidents, six occurred on the Westside, he said. Four occurred in the San Fernando Valley and one in South Los Angeles.
The incidents were categorized as four robberies, six burglaries and one grand theft, Moore said.
What is "striking in that small number of crimes was the amount of property that was stolen: $338,000 worth of property was stolen across the course of those 11 instances, and more than $40,000 worth of property damage," he said.
Moore said police believe the merchandise is being resold and marketed to unscrupulous buyers.
"The chain of responsibility extends all the way … to the buyer willing to pay a discounted rate to get a deal," he said, adding that officers are finding out where people are selling this material through interviews and search warrants on phones.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.