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CRIME

Napa County law enforcement promises visible presence after large-scale California thefts

Napa county and city law enforcement agencies are promising a more visible presence during the Christmas shopping season, in response to high-profile robberies in the Bay Area and elsewhere involving as many as dozens of thieves.

On Friday, officials with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office and Napa Police responded to the string of high-profile and apparently coordinated theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise, including heists at the Walnut Creek Nordstrom and a Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco last month.

Although no robberies of such scale and ambition have been reported this year in the Napa Valley, sheriff’s Detective Josh Coleman said local public safety agencies remain mindful of the possibility.

“We haven’t experienced that here, but (it) requires being adaptive,” he said on behalf of the sheriff’s office, which protects unincorporated areas along with American Canyon through a contract with the city. “We’re paying attention to intelligence and communications with law enforcement partners and learning from them.”

The increased presence will include areas like American Canyon’s Walmart — part of the Napa Junction shopping center and one of the company’s two stores in the county — as well as wineries and restaurants Upvalley. Coleman declined to share details about tactical and staffing changes related to the recent wave of organized thefts but said, “I can tell you we plan to be in those areas. Being in those areas can be a deterrent for those who want to commit crimes.”

In the city of Napa, police are planning extra officer patrols this month in large-scale retail areas including shopping centers and the downtown district, according to Sgt. Omar Salem.

No reported incidents in Napa County in recent months have approached the scale of mass shoplifting attacks like last month’s ransacking of the Walnut Creek Nordstrom and similar heists around the Bay Area. Nonetheless, Salem encouraged local businesses to maintain adequate staffing during the holiday shopping season and to quickly call 911 in case of a flash attack rather than engaging assailants.

“I don’t want people to put themselves in harm’s way,” he said later Friday.

Police and sheriff’s representatives also are asking customers to increase their awareness during the holiday shopping season.

Shoppers are advised not to leave valuables within view inside their vehicles, and to keep or bring them home or on their persons when possible. Authorities also ask shoppers to lock their vehicles, park in well-lit areas with other cars present, and be aware of their surroundings and off their cellphones when entering or leaving a shopping area.

A recent theft at Napa Premium Outlets ended in the arrests of six males, all but one of them minors. On Oct. 27, the group entered the shopping center’s Polo Ralph Lauren store on Freeway Drive and grabbed some $2,000 of merchandise before fleeing on foot and in a getaway car, in an incident Napa Police has said may be connected to other thefts in the county — including one at the same outlet store a day earlier.

Since then, a run of organized large-scale thefts in California and elsewhere in the U.S. has seen groups of thieves shoplift en masse from stores, or smash and grab from display cases. Single operators have also been a growing problem for retailers who say the thieves face little consequence.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin last week announced felony charges against nine people for a series of thefts, and Bay Area prosecutors announced a joint effort to combat organized retail theft.

In the Bay Area, the City Council in Walnut Creek this week approved an additional $2 million for policing after nearly 100 thieves wearing ski masks carried out a smash-and-grab mob robbery at a Nordstrom store in November. An estimated $125,000 in merchandise was stolen.

Police have arrested three suspects, including one on felony probation who allegedly possessed a handgun at the time.

The heist was one of many similar attacks in the Bay Area that weekend by dozens of armed suspects at stores in Oakland, San Francisco, Hayward, Pleasanton, and San Jose. Authorities have said it's not clear whether the incidents are related.

In the most recent development, Los Angeles authorities on Thursday announced more than a dozen arrests in recent smash-and-grabs in which nearly $340,000 worth of merchandise was stolen. Investigators are searching for multiple outstanding suspects, according to police Chief Michel Moore.

Fourteen people were arrested in connection with 11 brazen robberies between Nov. 18 and 28, and all are out of custody, with most bailing out or meeting no-bail criteria, and one is a juvenile, he said.

At a joint news conference, both Moore and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called for an end to a no-bail policy for some defendants aimed at reducing overcrowding at Los Angeles County jails during the coronavirus pandemic. A statewide policy of imposing $0 bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies ended last year, but it was kept in place within the Los Angeles County Superior Court system.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has boasted of his criminal justice reform efforts, promised on Wednesday that the proposed budget he sends to state lawmakers next month will “significantly increase our efforts to go after these retail rings.”

With reports from The Associated Press and Bay City News Service. 

According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) here is a list of 10 important reminders consumers should do to protect their information.

Most-read police briefs on NapaValleyRegister.com

Here is a roundup of police and fire reports in Napa County.

You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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