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A few days after a Ksubi store in Los Angeles was the victim of a rapid-fire smash-and-grab robbery taking $100,000 in streetwear merchandise, neighboring merchants were concerned, uneasy and feeling helpless that more isn’t being done to curtail these flash-mob style crimes rampant across the city, including at a Nordstrom, where the recent organized theft of $300,000 worth of goods made national news.

For Ksubi, the Tuesday evening robbery was just more of the same. The Australian-based label’s outpost on La Brea Avenue has been a frequent target of smash and grabs. In late January, police said someone stole a white Kia sedan, drove it through Ksubi’s front window at 3:50 a.m., rushed in and snatched an undetermined amount of merchandise.

“This is total insanity. It is out of control,” said Mark Werts, co-owner of the American Rag Cie, a large decades-old contemporary and vintage clothing and denim store on the avenue since 1984 and a few doors away from the Ksubi store. “There is no way our society can survive total lawlessness and chaos. This complacency of Karen Bass, our mayor, is outrageous, outrageous, outrageous. Since she has been elected [late last year], it has just gone wild.…Anybody who has any backbone has to stand up for this. And if they don’t, people are going to take this into their own hands.”

As if answering Werts’ criticism, the Los Angeles mayor on Thursday announced a new task force to tackle the smash-and-grab problem. It will be working around the clock and have 22 assigned investigators from several law enforcement agencies including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Beverly Hills Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol. Prosecutors will be imbedded from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and the California Attorney General’s office.  

The police are totally frustrated because these criminals are let out the same day they are arrested.”

Mark Werts, co-owner of the American Rag Cie

But the task force’s formation wasn’t easing some retailers’ worries. On La Brea Avenue, the owner of a vintage workwear clothing store said the Ksubi robbery will probably push him out of the neighborhood to concentrate on his other location in the Silver Lake neighborhood. “It’s scary here,” said the merchant who asked not to be identified, in fear of being targeted by criminals. “You never know when it’s going to happen to you. Last year, this area was very safe, and now something is happening every other week.”

Six months ago, the Los Angeles Police Department told him they had increased enforcement activity around the neighborhood because so many businesses had complained about not feeling safe. After the recent Ksubi robbery, police were on the scene shortly after a mob of young people wearing hoodies and face masks dashed into the store, he said.

La Brea Avenue is just one small retail area being affected by the wave of flash-mob-style invasions.  

On Aug. 12, a swift-moving band of 30 people entered a Nordstrom at Westfield Topanga shopping center and within minutes grabbed more than $300,000 worth of merchandise from displays near the entrance, the Los Angeles police department said.

The suspects wearing ski masks fled with high-end handbags, clothing and other easily re-sellable items.

On Aug. 8 at 4:50 p.m., a flash mob of about 30 to 40 people invaded a Saint Laurent store at the Americana at Brand near Los Angeles, absconding with about $300,000 in merchandise, the Glendale Police Department said.

The shopping center is owned by billionaire developer Rick Caruso, who ran for Los Angeles mayor last year and is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspects who committed the crime.

Caruso, who also used to be head of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said it is time for elected officials to change the laws to hold criminals accountable and start enforcing the laws in a fair and equitable manner. “Retail businesses and small and large shopping areas are experiencing an alarming increase in ‘smash-and-grab’ robberies,” he said in an email. “I have heard directly from small business owners who feel defeated by the lack of accountability for criminals.”

On July 31, another brazen robbery occurred at 3:10 p.m. at a Gucci store at Westfield Century City. An online video shows about nine masked individuals dashing out the store with handfuls of purses and carting off luggage selling for nearly $4,000 a piece as security guards looked shocked.

The robbery occurred weeks after another Gucci store was robbed in San Francisco’s Union Square where intruders took $48,000 worth of merchandise, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

The rash of robberies is leading to public criticism of elected officials and police for not doing more. In Los Angeles, the fault-finding has been leveled squarely on the head of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who was elected to office in late 2020 and took over the job with a more “soft on crime” policy than his predecessors, according to the press.

He soon eliminated cash bail because he said it was a two-tier system that benefits the wealthy and hurts the poor. He said his office would no longer prosecute crimes such as driving without a license, loitering, trespassing, criminal threats, resisting arrest, drinking in public or public intoxication. He also forbade prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. An effort to get him recalled a year after he took office fizzled, as did a second attempt.

When Gascon held a press conference on Monday to address cold-case murders, the subject quickly turned to the rash of robberies. He said he would fully prosecute to the extent of the law the people who stole $300,000 worth of merchandise from the Nordstrom at Westfield Topanga as well as thieves stealing merchandise from other stores.

But that prompted the press to criticize him for being soft on crime, which he did not take lightly, pointing out that he was personally outraged by the robberies and that the D.A.’s office was working with the police to make arrests.

Bass’ formation of a task force comes days after the most recent robbery, which concerned her. “The Los Angeles Police Department’s primary duty is to ensure the safety and security of our community members and businesses,” she said on Thursday. “Retail theft not only affects businesses financially but also has a broader impact on the overall well-being of our community. The Organized Retail Crimes Task Force will work closely with retailers to enhance security measures, share information, and develop strategies to deter these crimes. Moreover, community involvement is vital to our success.”

Retailers are hoping this new beefed-up task force can do something to end to these crimes. “The police are totally frustrated because these criminals are let out the same day they are arrested,” Werts said. “It is our hope that the police get this lawlessness under control.”