SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Speaking as a business owner who has also been victimized by criminals three times this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom did not mince words Monday when asked about the stunning outbreak of retail smash-and-grab crimes across the San Francisco Bay Area since Friday.
"We want real accountability," he said. "We want people prosecuted and we want people to feel safe this holiday season. Why are we here? We're talking about safety, people's health. We want to protect people and we want to respect people's rights, including small business owners and I say this knowing that my business has been broken into three times this year."
Newsom was asked to address the crime wave and what he planned to do about it during a visit to promote COVID-19 booster shots in the Bay Area,
The dramatic rise in retail crime has been a characteristic of the pandemic. On July 21, surrounded by mayors and law enforcement officers, Newsom announced the re-establishment of the state's retail theft task force.
The group has conducted over 773 investigations, Newsom said, that has resulted in hundreds of arrests and the recovery of close to $20 million in stolen merchandise.
But obviously more needs to be done.
"We have been working with cities up and down the state including San Francisco, Walnut Creek and others that were impacted over this weekend," he said.
Among the most stunning was a flash mob of looters who swarmed into the Nordstrom store in downtown Walnut Creek Saturday night, terrorizing shoppers, assaulting employees, ripping off bag loads of merchandise and ransacking shelves before fleeing in a several vehicles waiting for them on the street.
Walnut Creek Police Lt. Ryan Hibbs told KPIX that three people were in custody and others were being sought.
"Walnut Creek police investigators are in the process of reviewing surveillance footage to attempt to identify other suspects responsible for this brazen act," authorities said in Sunday morning news release.
The looters made off with between $100,000 ad $200,000 worth of merchandise, Walnut Creek police said Monday.
Newsom has been in contact with San Francisco Mayor London Breed in the wake of the havoc a band of looters caused in Union Square on Friday night.
In the aftermath of the weekend's events, Walnut Creek officials have also reached out for help from the state.
Newsom said there will be an increase in patrols on the two major highways - Interstate 680 and state Highway 4 - and the California Highway Patrol will also increase patrols near major retail hubs around the Bay Area.
"You will see substantially more starting today," Newsom said. "In and around areas that are highly trafficked coming into the holiday season -- Black Friday -- in shopping malls ... We are going to be more aggressive still in this space to help support cities and the prosecution ... I have no sympathy, no empathy whatsoever for people smashing and grabbing, stealing people's items, creating havoc and terror on our streets. None. Period."
Newsom also believes much of the criminal activity is the product of organized crime.
"These are crimes of opportunity, but they're very well organized," he said. "And they need to be held to account."
He also addressed the fears that the crimes have left in their wake.
"They're not just stealing people's products and impacting their livelihoods, they're stealing a sense of place and confidence," he said. "That's why you've got to get serious about it. I'm not the mayor of California. But I was a mayor. And I know when things like this happen, mayors have to step up. That's not an indictment. That's not a cheap shot."
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