The current DA has been slow to respond to flash mob robberies, and once she responds, she’s ineffective. Given my 36 years of experience as a Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney, I know the District Attorney can do more. We need to implement these three steps immediately:
- Convene a Bay Area-wide law enforcement response to track and apprehend suspects
Contra Costa law enforcement agencies are partnered to provide mutual aid during emergency situations. This “mutual aid” concept should be employed throughout the Bay Area to strategically shut down access routes for potential retail targets to intervene and prevent crime before it happens.
The investigative and technological expertise of this team will:
- Identify the criminal syndicates who organize the smash-and-grab robberies
- Intercept the “chatter” on social media planning these events
- Share information between law enforcement agencies to quickly locate and arrest perpetrators
The ideal team to coordinate this activity is the DA/FBI Safe Streets Task Force, comprised of local, state, and federal task force agents who are partnered with prosecutors assigned to the Community Violence Reduction Unit (a unit that I created in the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office).
Given the violence involved and the value of the merchandise being stolen, the Task Force will collaborate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to charge qualifying cases under the Hobbs Act and prosecute them in federal court.
The criminal syndicates committing the smash-and-grab robberies, as well as strings of residential burglaries in Contra Costa, are mobile and active in surrounding counties. During the past four years, regional law enforcement agencies have done an impressive job of sharing information to identify the true scope of the criminality of these crews and to provide investigative support. The information supplied by this well-coordinated network provided me with the evidence required to file multiple counts following very significant organized retail theft and residential robberies. I worked with the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill Police Departments through the investigative challenges of the looting in 2020 and filed charges on a number of suspects. As District Attorney, I will continue to support this allied inter-county effort.
- Prevent the use of our freeways as crime corridors, deploy cameras
Organized shoplifting gangs have been using the regional freeway system to quickly move between targets in neighboring law enforcement jurisdictions. By the time an investigation starts at the first crime, the gang has moved on to loot another store in the next county.
Contra Costa’s Freeway Security Network has the technological capability to combat organized retail theft. The Allied Freeway Agencies have received additional funding for the Network and direction to develop a plan to augment and expand the Network county-wide in order to provide technological leads in preventing and investigating criminal syndicates involved in the violent organized retail theft.
I am proud to have originated the creation of this freeway camera system to combat freeway shootings. Since the network was installed, freeway shootings have been reduced by 90% in Contra Costa while remaining all too frequent in neighboring counties. I continue to work with law enforcement and elected leaders to propose that additional funding that Governor Newsom included in the state budget be used to incorporate additional technology to target organized retail theft into the Freeway Security Network.
- Disrupt the use of social media as a key enabler of looting
Organized retail theft would not exist without social media, which is the key element to planning and profiting from these crimes.
Looting is coordinated through social media
Social media platforms provide the means of communication which allows criminals to conspire to commit take-over robberies. These platforms are directly aiding and abetting the commission of large-scale crimes, which may result in criminal liability for the social media platforms. I will call on the social media platforms, as well as private communication platforms, to monitor and immediately report to law enforcement any communications planning a smash-and-grab robbery or the “fencing” of stolen property.
We must make it clear to technology companies that failure to monitor and report the coordination of criminal enterprise should not be a protected business activity and should instead be considered as aiding and abetting that crime.
Stolen goods are sold via online marketplaces
If a market for the merchandise that is being stolen did not exist, the criminal syndicates would have no motive to steal. While I am out talking with community members, most are surprised to learn that the merchandise that is stolen from CVS, Walgreens, Lululemon and the high-end retailers is often sold on the internet via OfferUp, LetGo, and the Facebook and Amazon Market Places.
As District Attorney, I will actively engage and educate our community members about the crime occurring in our county and ways we can work together to combat it, such as not buying merchandise off the internet that does not have a means of guaranteeing that it is not stolen merchandise. I will also work with retail stores to modify their return/exchange policies to ensure that they are not accepting the return of their own stolen merchandise.
About Mary Knox: Mary Knox was born and raised in Walnut Creek and has 36 years of experience advocating and fighting for victims, their families, and the larger community. She is a lead prosecutor in the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office, who has prosecuted and won high profile cases against some of the most notorious criminals in county history. She has broken the chokehold that criminal gangs have had on the most disadvantaged communities and has engaged in meaningful violence reduction by instituting effective strategies to reduce crime and prosecute violent criminals. Learn more about Mary at maryknox4da.com