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Crackdown on Outlet thieves

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Frank Carrubba
delivered a get-tough message to Gilroy Premium Outlets
administrators and store managers Wednesday.
GILROY – Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Frank Carrubba delivered a get-tough message to Gilroy Premium Outlets administrators and store managers Wednesday in an effort to rid the shopping mall of its growing reputation among Bay Area shoplifters for its easy pickings.

Carrubba said the DA’s office will implement a new policy to prosecute any and all shoplifters at the Outlets – regardless of individual store or corporate policy.

“Hopefully, we communicated a positive message that shoplifting won’t be tolerated,” Carrubba said. “We don’t need to have the store’s cooperation to convict, but it makes our job a lot easier.”

While the majority of the Outlet’s 145 stores do work closely with police and the DA’s office to prosecute shoplifters, a handful of “big name” stores at the Outlets have made the police’s list for repeatedly letting shoplifters walk.

Those stores’ failure to prosecute affects the community three-fold, according to Carrubba: It attracts criminals to Gilroy from as far away as Oakland to take advantage of relaxed prosecution policies, it takes away from possible sales tax revenue and it wastes the resources of police – all things Carrubba tried to convey to the store managers at the meeting.

Gilroy Premium Outlet management and Chelsea Property Group, which own the Outlets, declined to comment. But some store managers did express their thoughts.

“I think the meeting was a very positive step,” said Debbie Dolph, the operations manager at Timberland. Timberland prosecutes shoplifters and Dolph said employees have witnessed three to five shoplifters during the past two weeks.

“This is a common problem, and we all need to be part of the solution,” Dolph said. “I think the word was out there that the Outlets are an easy place to steal, but now I think a lot of stores are understanding the consequences (of not prosecuting).”

During the meeting Carrubba answered questions from the store managers regarding the prosecution policy, and GPD Sgt. Noel Provost fielded questions about police policy, Carrubba said.

Many of the store managers do not want their employees to be forced to testify against shoplifters, and the large employee turnover at the Outlets creates difficulties when trying to subpoena witnesses, Carrubba said. But in Santa Clara County 96 to 97 percent of shoplifting cases never make it to trial, with the defendant usually being forced to pay restitution, according to Carrubba.

Store managers also expressed concern about police policy regarding stolen merchandise, fearing that the merchandise would be kept as evidence too long, and they would not be able to return it to the shelves. Provost informed the managers of a 48-hour holding policy by the GPD, and he said that in cases where evidence is needed, photographs of the merchandise will often suffice.

“It seems like a lot of things got cleared up today,” Carrubba said. “I think a lot of our problem was simply miscommunication between my office and the stores, and the stores and their corporate offices. Most corporate offices have policies designed to protect their employees so they don’t get hurt apprehending a thief – which I agree with – but this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t prosecute.”

The situation that unfolds in many of the shoplifting cases at the Outlets is that a store employee unfamiliar with store policy will call the police to report a theft, police respond and apprehend the suspect, and then store managers take back the stolen property before citing corporate policy and declining to file charges, frustrating police.

In many instances the police are called by the stores for insurance purposes, although the businesses have no intention to prosecute, according to police.

“Even though some stores feel they can fiscally handle the theft, it affects the entire community,” Carrubba said.

“In a shopping center like the Outlets, it is very easy to shoplift because as soon as you leave the store you’re in the parking lot,” he said. “Without prosecution, this makes the Outlets a perfect target to attract the criminal element to Gilroy. And chances are those people don’t just stop with shoplifting.”

Aja Mcabee, the manager of outlet store Guess, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, but said she agrees with the DA’s new policy.

“Without prosecution it’s a waste of police time, but more importantly people think they can get away with stealing from our stores,” she said. “If there is no deterrent of being arrested or getting a charge on their record, what’s to stop people from stealing?”