Psaki says root cause of organized retail crime is the COVID-19 pandemic
White House official adds that theft is 'absolutely unacceptable'
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday the root cause of the spike in organized retail crime is the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the Biden administration is working with a number of communities across the nation to "crack down" on crime in those neighborhoods.
Smash-and-grab looters have been targeting stores across the nation in recent weeks, robbing retailers of thousands of dollars in merchandise in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, New York and Minneapolis.
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Psaki, during a White House press briefing Thursday, said that President Biden has called for an increase in funding to support local police departments and "ensure that local communities are working in partnership to crack down on crime and any dangers they see in their communities."
"We've also worked with a range of communities across the country on strike forces," Psaki continued, adding that the administration is "continuing to implement that from the Department of Justice.
"But the president absolutely believes that community police forces can have an important instrumental effect in helping keep communities safe."
Psaki pointed to guns and the COVID-19 pandemic as "root" causes of the spike in organized retail theft.
"One of the root reasons of crime in communities is guns and gun violence, and we’ve seen that statistically around the country," Psaki said, adding that a "root cause in a lot of communities is the pandemic."
A White House official told Fox News Thursday that the administration is monitoring reports of looting and said that officials have seen "some of the disturbing videos documenting these thefts."
"This sort of conduct is absolutely unacceptable, and we’re using every resource at our disposal to support local authorities and crack down on organized retail theft," the official said.
The official added that the Justice Department, the FBI and federal law enforcement have been in contact with jurisdictions where this has happened to offer assistance in investigations.
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In Los Angeles, the official said, the FBI is "providing assistance to a multi-jurisdictional task force led by LAPD and [the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department] to go after the criminal groups who are behind many of these incidents."
"In addition to those steps, the president has also given communities historic levels of funding through the Rescue Plan to put more cops on the beat for effective, accountable, community policing, as well as invest in community programs proven to reduce crime," the official said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice announced recently that San Francisco and Los Angeles – where a number of high-profile retail thefts have happened – will get funding to hire 50 and 20 more police officers, respectively, through the $140 million COPS program the president has championed, the official said.
"These are all steps that we know are going to reduce crime and make our communities, our neighborhoods and our stores safer for all of us," the official said.
The White House push comes as smash-and-grab robberies have plagued cities across the nation, with one incident leaving a California security guard dead as he tried to protect a news crew that was reporting on the crimes. Retired San Jose police officer Kevin Nishita was fatally shot during an armed robbery.
A group of five suspects stole about $25,000 in expensive purses from a Nordstrom store in the Westfield Topanga mall in Los Angeles on the eve of Thanksgiving. While a large group also entered a Bottega Veneta in the Beverly Grove section of Los Angeles on Friday and used a chemical agent against one person who tried to stop them as they stole high-end merchandise.
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In Monterey, California, a group of about four people stole an estimated $30,000 worth of sunglasses from a Sunglass Hut. In San Francisco, thieves between the ages of 14 and 18 took more than $20,000 in merchandise from an Apple store in broad daylight on Wednesday.
The crimes have also spread into other areas in the country, including in Chicago, where police say thieves threw a cinder block through a Canada Goose store between midnight and 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and took merchandise. Three other smash-and-grabs were reported in the city, with thieves targeting a Foot Locker, a North Face store and a cell phone store.
In suburban Minneapolis last Friday night, a large group of at least 30 people targeted a Best Buy in Burnsville, while a group of 10 to 12 people, including juveniles, targeted another Best Buy in Maplewood.
Mobs of thieves ransacked at least two dozen San Francisco area businesses over last weekend, Oakland police said, noting that cannabis operations, retail shops and pharmacies were targeted.
The crimes also extended to San Jose, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco, where at least four people stole $40,000 from a Lululemon last week in an incident described by police as "organized robbery."
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The National Retail Federation reported an increase in shoplifting and robberies — linking both to organized retail crime. The NRF said that 69% of retailers reported an increase in organized retail crime in 2021, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, policing, changes to sentencing guidelines and growth of online marketplaces for the increase in ORC activity.
The NRF said 65% of respondents reported an increase in violence in these incidents, with 37% saying the gangs involved in activities were "much more aggressive than in the past."
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The NRF reported that 78% of retailers felt a federal organized retail crime law would "effectively combat these issues" in part, because the issue is a multi-jurisdictional one that crosses state lines.
NRF reported that the cities most affected by organized retail crime are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Miami in the top five, followed by Houston, Atlanta, Sacramento, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Seattle.
Fox News' Peter Doocy, Talia Kaplan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.