Walnut Creek may hire extra cops to fend off rash of mass store robberies

WALNUT CREEK — In response to the recent mass burglary at the downtown Nordstrom , the City Council on Wednesday will consider spending $2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to shore up the police department.

Most of the funding would go toward paying five additional officers to patrol downtown including the Broadway Plaza luxury department store that dozens of people broke into and ransacked on Nov. 20.

Three suspects have since been arrested and charged with robbery and conspiracy in the crime, which was part of a rash of retail thefts that hit the Bay Area and elsewhere in California and the nation this month.

The funding, made available through the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 relief, would also pay for more security cameras and an additional drone to catch burglaries as they happen.

The council also will discuss whether to send letters to Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators who represent Walnut Creek asking them to provide “direct funding and resources” to cities to fight organized retail theft.

Although the council will need to justify how COVID-19 relief funds could be spent on policing, Walnut Creek Mayor Kevin Wilk said it’s important to act decisively.

“These organized retail thefts are a huge problem. It’s not a one-off incident,” Wilk said. “We need to ensure that (District Attorney) Diana Becton prosecutes to the fullest extent of the law, and that the criminals involved are held responsible and pay the consequences.”

The special meeting, scheduled to begin 8:30 a.m., would mark the second time in recent months the council has approved more police presence at the Nordstrom in Broadway Plaza.

In August, the council unanimously voted to pay police overtime to patrol the store as a preventative measure amid a “regional uptick” in flash mob-style, grab-and-run thefts.

Walnut Creek police had already begun stationing more officers at the nearby Apple Store because of a similar rash of crimes.

The city has resisted calls from some residents to reduce police funding and alternatively spend more money on restorative justice and social safety services. Those suggestions stemmed from a nationwide movement to defund law enforcement, sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

Wilk said the broader principles of the movement do not apply to the recent rash of crimes, especially the one in Walnut Creek, which appears to have been organized in large numbers.

“These are brazen, armed robberies,” Wilk said. “We have to have a deterrence, in terms of surveillance. And of course, we have to enforce the consequences through the DA’s office.”

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Author: Shomik Mukherjee