VALLEJO (CBS SF) -- The CHP Golden Gate Division on Tuesday announced a recent investigation by the CHP's Organized Retail Crime Task Force (ORCTF) that led to the arrest of two suspects linked to stashes of more than $200,000 in stolen retail merchandise.
CHP investigators were working with the San Francisco Police Department's Retail Theft Unit when a recent arrest led law enforcement to uncover the large retail theft operation. CHP investigators obtained and executed a search warrant last Thursday at a residence in Vallejo.
Task Force members found evidence of a retail theft operation involving merchandise stolen from numerous retailers, including CVS, Victoria's Secret, GAP, Target, LensCrafters, TJX, Nordstrom, Walgreens, Safeway, and several others.
In addition to the residence, a search warrant was served at a Vallejo storage facility connected to the suspect. At the same time, the SFPD Retail Theft Unit assisted the ORCTF with a search warrant at a second storage facility in San Francisco.
While members of SFPD's Retail Theft Unit were at the San Francisco storage facility, a male connected to the locker arrived. He was detained and later questioned by CHP ORCTF investigators, who determined he was involved with organized retail theft crime and was subsequently arrested.
The investigation resulted in the primary suspect of the operation being arrested at the residence in Vallejo. In addition to the two suspects being taken into custody, investigators recovered approximately 15,000 stolen items worth more than $200,000.
"The brazen retail thefts we've seen recently are organized by sophisticated criminal enterprises and they demand a no-less sophisticated response from law enforcement agencies working in close coordination," said CHP Golden Gate Division Chief Chris Costigan. "We hope this sends a strong message to would-be thieves and those facilitating their crimes that they will be held accountable."
Authorities believe more arrests are part of the solution.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta says organizers at the top are using social media, texts, and messaging apps to arrange well-coordinated smash and grabs.
"They're being charged as felonies. We need to make arrests, that's how you deter crime," said Bonta. "We have cases where people are acting in concert up to 80 people with weapons with ghost guns with pepper spray and other weapons stealing up to a million dollars."
Bonta is urging major retailers to help by reporting theft early, and promising a series of roundtables to address rampant retail theft.
San Francisco Chief of Police Bill Scott praised the work of the ORCTF along with Chief Costigan and CHP Golden Gate.
"These kinds of crimes aren't just hurting large retailers. In our city, they're hurting workers who are losing their jobs and seeing their hours cut. They're hurting seniors who depend on neighborhood pharmacies that are being forced to shutter."
Tuesday night, in Union Square, heightened security measures were evidenced with armed guards inside stores, officers stationed on corners and extra surveillance cameras.
"More security does make one feel more safe," said shopper Alex Anaya.
"I would want a police officer or someone who's armed and able to take down a grab and run person," said shopper Devin Bradley.
Devin Bradley and his girlfriend are shopping and soaking in the holiday spirit. They both work in retail and see what happens inside stores as criminals brazenly leave with arms full of stolen merchandise.
"I feel like there's been a lot more happening. There is no say if it's organized or individuals," said Erica Roa.
Organized retail theft incidents may be reported on the CHP's Retail Theft Program website.
Kenny Choi contributed to this report.
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