The Board of State and Community Corrections has approved nearly $270 million in grants to local law enforcement and district attorney’s offices in California to help fight organized retail theft.

Some of the grant recipients spoke to the media Friday, including San Francisco’s police chief and district attorney.

Some organized criminal elements go beyond even the United States, said California Highway Patrol Commissioner Sean Duryee.

“Not all of them, but I think that’s why it’s so important to commit the resources and the efforts to these complex investigations and identify them,” Duryee said.

Throughout the state, local law enforcement departments will be spending their awards on paying officers for overtime, training, creating task forces specific to protecting retailers and obtaining new technologies that collect and share data.

Most departments will be investing in automated license plate readers. These are high-speed, computer-controlled camera systems that can be used from patrol cars or mounted onto street poles. The systems are opposed by First Amendment advocates, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, because the data can paint an intimate portrait of a driver’s life without them knowing.

Vertical prosecution systems

The awarded district attorney offices will be implementing what are called vertical prosecution systems. That means they will be hiring or assigning staff specifically dedicated to major retail theft cases as opposed to cases being assigned to multiple attorneys as they pass through the system.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said, “This vertical prosecution grant that my office has received will allow for my office to have one fully vetted, dedicated prosecutor, as well as a fully dedicated investigator assigned to both investigate and prosecute repeat and group offenders of retail theft in San Francisco.”

The grants will help police agencies pay for officer overtime, training, creating retail crime task forces and obtaining new data technologies.

“Right now, the cases are distributed in our general felonies group,” said Randy Quezada, a spokesperson for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

With a vertical system, they will be able to familiarize themselves with managers and workers and develop the ability to identify witnesses.

“They will be able to develop those relationships with the local Home Depot,” Quezada said.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said, “Last week I was out in the Tenderloin at two in the morning and talking to some of the people who are out the door some weeks back selling stolen items.”

He told the story of a 28-year-old with an addiction, saying, “He feeds that addiction by going to retail establishments and stealing. And, you know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg there, because as the commissioner pointed out, we also have run across individuals and groups of individuals who take the profits, and they buy illegal weapons and a few other criminal activities.”