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A series of organized robberies at several high-end Bay Area retailers this past weekend has local police departments on high alert to what some believe may be part of a larger operation.
On Sunday night, Nov. 21, four armed bandits broke into the Lululemon store in San Jose’s Santana Row around 6:30 p.m., taking $40,000 worth of merchandise.
Earlier that same day, about 40 to 50 people were reported to have broken into Sam’s Jewelers in Hayward’s Southland Mall, using hammers to smash display cases. On Saturday, 80 people stormed Nordstrom in Walnut Creek. And on Friday, The Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square was hit in a brazen smash-and-grab robbery.
“We’re not going to forget about it. We’re going to investigate it,” San Jose Police Department spokesperson Christian Camarillo said. “The number one mission is to is find them, arrest and bring them back here.”
Camarillo said the four suspects in the Santana Row incident were two women and two men. One of the suspects was seen with a firearm in his waistband.
“We’re not going to forget about it. We’re going to investigate it. The number one mission is to is find them, arrest and bring them back here.”Christian Camarillo, San Jose Police Department
After the suspects raided the store, they got away in a waiting vehicle before law enforcement arrived on the scene. Camarillo did not provide any description about the get-away vehicle, wary of revealing too much about the ongoing investigation.
Camarillo said he could only comment on what happened in San Jose — avoiding questions about whether the other weekend break-ins were related.
However, he noted that there is likely a larger organized robbery scheme in San Jose.
At the same time as the Santana Row break-in, suspicious activity was reported across the street at Valley Fair mall, where four to five cars were seen driving without license plates.
“Common sense would dictate what was going on at Valley Fair at the same time it was going on across the street at Lululemon are more than likely related to each other,” Camarillo said.
In the Walnut Creek incident, dozens of looters rushed the Nordstrom store on Saturday night and escaped with between $100,000 and $200,000 worth of merchandise, Walnut Creek police said Monday.
Lt. Hollie Connors said up to 80 masked bandits blocked the street up and down Broadway Plaza with up to 25 vehicles that had license plates covered from possible identification. Though the city began placing officers inside Nordstrom earlier this year after similar smash-and-grab robberies, no officers were on site just before 9 p.m. Saturday when the coordinated attack took place.
Three employees were injured, including one who was pepper-sprayed. Police arrested three suspects Saturday night, at least one with a gun, as dozens more fled.
Connors also would not say whether the thefts are connected. She said police believed another attempt at Nordstrom would be made Sunday night, so they blocked off ether end of the street and put the department’s ready and react team on alert. No trouble was reported.
“I don’t know if that made them divert, or what happened,” Connors said. “We had some information that that same group might come back. We prepared.”
She said there was an officer posted at the nearby Apple Store on Saturday night, who was alerted to what were initially reported as a high number of reckless driving incidents around the plaza. Police responded quickly, but were hampered by the sheer number of suspects driving away in so many vehicles.
Walnut Creek Mayor Kevin Wilk said the city will keep Broadway Plaza free of cars at least through the holidays.
“This is really all hands on deck,” Wilk said. “We’ll have more police downtown. We’ll be monitoring online chatter and communicating with all our stores.”
Coordinating with other cities
Wilk said he expects more arrests as more video evidence is analyzed. He spent much of Monday in meetings about the city response, including discussions with other mayors on how to coordinate. He said the city also needs county help.
“We need the DA to charge and prosecute these cases to the full extent of the law,” Wilk said. “If people see they’re going to be caught, they’ll think twice. We need to make people feel safe in Walnut Creek. We demand it.”
As for San Jose, Camarillo said it is the first time the city has been hit with organized robbery like this and will hopefully be the last time.
During the holiday season, shopping centers do have additional security but it is unclear whether SJPD will beef up those levels after this incident.
“We’re obviously not going to share planning tactics, anything like that,” Camarillo said. “What I will share… is we are not going to put up with it here in San Jose.”
Camarillo also noted that if residents do see suspicious activity to report it right away and avoid confrontation as “it is not worth you losing your life or being seriously hurt for a material item.”
And for those who have participated in organized crime, or are looking to do so, Camarillo’s message was clear: “We will come after you, we will find you and we will arrest you.”