‘Sick and tired’: Karbassi rallies shop owners, law enforcement over millions in brazen retail thefts

Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi, a store owner himself, brought fellow retailers and law enforcement together Tuesday to educate and strengthen ties as massive thefts continue on the Valley floor.

Organized retail theft is rampant up and down California, and Fresno has not been left out of the shocking trend. 

In an effort to connect with and educate the local retail community, Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi hosted a Retail Theft Summit at Fresno City Hall Tuesday evening. 

Karbassi was joined by the California Retailers Association, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Burke Farrah, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp and the California Highway Patrol. 

In September, the CHP launched its Valley-based Organized Retail Crime Task Force. Since its launch, authorities have nabbed 88 arrests and recovered $1.1 million in assets swiped from retailers.

“You see these organized retail theft crews, they’re very serious criminals,” Smittcamp said. “They’re gang members. They’re not just stealing goods. They’re participating in gun trafficking and human trafficking and a lot of other things. And these are dangerous people that you do not want around your associates, your family, your employees.” 

Farrah pointed to changes at the state level in recent years as having contributed to the worsening organized theft epidemic striking California. 

Previously, the police were able to take drug offenders that were on parole or probation and put them in a 90 day program to get treatment. That’s no longer the case, Farrah said. 

“It used to be that if someone came into your store with a booster bag, premeditated, ready to steal from you, we could book them for a charge of burglary, which was a felony crime,” Farrah said. “It’s no longer the case in the State of California.” 

Smittcamp pointed to Proposition 47, which California voters approved in 2014 with nearly 60 percent of support. Prop. 47 reclassified felonies such as shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, writing a bad check and illegal drug use as misdemeanors if they were under $950 in total value or below a certain weight for drug use. 

The felony threshold was $400 before Prop. 47 was enacted. 

Smittcamp also pointed to the fact that some crimes are automatically diverted, which lets criminals go without being convicted. 

“This is what the reality of California is today. Now that’s the bad news. The good news is I think people are sick and tired of it. I think retailers are tired of it. I think consumers are tired of it. I think people that live and work in this community are sick of it, and it’s time for us to start to say enough is enough,” Smittcamp said. 

“There is nothing wrong with criminal justice reform. We do it every single day, and we’ve been doing it for many years. The goal of every person who wears a law enforcement badge is to rehabilitate people who are willing to rehabilitate. But when people are not willing to rehabilitate, when they are not willing to stop their criminal behavior, when they continue to abuse and violate and be violent and steal and thieve and abuse people, then enough is enough. We have to have some accountability.” 

Smittcamp encouraged all business owners to report any and all crimes that happen, saying her office needs to know as many facts as possible to prosecute. She also encouraged business owners to have cameras operating on site to help gather evidence. 

Smittcamp also encouraged the retail owners to be mindful of who they are voting for and sending to Sacramento to represent them. 

“We are in a world now where certain people just vote for people who are in their party or who are the same gender or who are the same nationality or the same color,” Smittcamp said. “You can’t do that. That’s not how we need to vote in America. We need to vote for people who will have the same values as us and who are going to promote responsibility and accountability.”

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