SACRAMENTO -- Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper says retail theft in the county is out of control and that his deputies' hands are tied when it comes to holding brazen and repeat shoplifters responsible.
In a coordinated crackdown, the sheriff's office organized the department's first-ever major retail theft sting. They sent 50 deputies undercover for one week in "Operation Bad Elf" targeting 12 major retailers in the county like Target, Walmart, Ulta and Walgreens.
"We're tired of it, the public is tired of it, this is a big issue," said Cooper at a media conference Tuesday announcing the results of the sting.
Those deputies said the thing that shocked them most from the undercover operation was the sheer volume of how much was being stolen daily.
"The amount of theft that goes on day in and day out was eye-opening," said Sgt. Tiffany Pfau, who helped organize the operation.
The sting brought 285 theft arrests over seven days.
"Think about how many places we weren't and how much thievery was going on that night, those seven nights. A lot," Sheriff Cooper said.
Of those arrests, only 52 people were actually booked into jail. The other 233 individuals were just given tickets.
Sheriff Cooper says it is the perfect example of what he calls bad legislation in California, which he argues emboldens people to rob retailers daily.
"These people just go out and steal, not because of need, [but] because they can and they won't get in trouble," he said.
Other statistics from the week-long operation found that only about 20% of the people arrested were homeless, but more than 60% of the people they arrested had been cited for stealing before.
Additionally, 99% of those arrested were acting alone, not as part of some organized crime group.
Sacramento shoppers were glad to hear of the crackdown.
"I think it's amazing. I think it's long overdue," said Sacramento Target shopper, Janice Van Dyck. "I'm glad it's being addressed. It's affecting the people that are working hard."
She and other shoppers have noticed how rampant theft has caused them to pay higher prices and see everyday items secured behind locked plexiglass at their favorite stores.
"You have to call someone to even get deodorant out. It impacts us. I would buy more but because of that, I don't," Van Dyck said.
Cooper argues it is not just an inconvenience.
"This is a safety issue for residents. It's a quality of life issue," said Cooper, who added that several of the shoplifting suspects were armed when arrested.
The sheriff, arguing that state law reform is needed.
"Retailers are part of the problem. They have a hands-off policy. They underreport or don't report at all," Cooper said.
He shared harsh words Tuesday for California's major retailers and called out the California Retailer's Association (CRA), accusing both of not doing enough to stop this problem.
"They're more concerned about their image than doing what's right for their customers and employees. Shame on them. Shame on them," Cooper said. "Because they all talk about, 'Hey, losses are staggering. We are concerned about employee safety.' Well, what the hell are you doing? A long time ago, they stopped and confronted people. Somewhere along the way, they stopped doing that."
In response to this criticism, the CRA told CBS13 it is committed to working with stakeholders to find solutions to retail theft.
"This includes supporting an initiative to reform Proposition 47 and continuing our partnership with the Governor's Administration, the Legislature, and the newly appointed Assembly Select Committee on Retail Theft. This issue is too important to the safety of our employees, our customers, and the communities in which we operate to not find effective solutions," the CRA told CBS13 in a statement.
Cooper is calling on corporate giants to get behind a ballot initiative reforming California's Proposition 47, which was passed by voters nearly a decade ago.
The bill bumped the felony threshold for theft up from $400 to $950 and made it so repeated thefts cannot combine to reach felony status.
"To change that, it has to go back to the voters," said Cooper, arguing this needs to be a ballot initiative in the November election.
He challenges California's major retailers and the CRA to make it happen.
Sheriff Cooper says that while this was the department's first major sting operation for retail theft, it won't be the last.
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