Sacramento County sheriff accuses major retail stores of stymieing efforts to stop theft

Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper criticized stores and a business trade group this week on social media for stymieing efforts by deputies to stop retail theft and failing to address what he believes are lenient penalties for property crimes.

Cooper said his office created operations at both Target and Walgreens locations to arrest people experiencing homelessness who are reportedly shoplifting. At both stores, deputies’ plans were halted, he said in social media posts Thursday, while adding it’s a reminder that big retailers “DON’T CARE about retail theft or consumer.”

“We don’t tell big retail how to do their jobs, they shouldn’t tell us how to do ours,” Cooper said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Target, which Cooper says is seeking to avoid negative press, didn’t want deputies arresting people inside the store and only behind the establishment, the sheriff wrote in one of his posts. Walgreens’ corporate office abruptly stopped deputies from carrying out an operation they planned with store employees, Sgt. Amar Gandhi, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said in a phone interview.

“We were told they didn’t want to create a scene inside the store and have people film it and put it on social media,” Cooper wrote of Target. “They didn’t want negative press. Unbelievable.”

Target did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

“Theft continues to be one of the top challenges facing retailers nationwide including Walgreens, and that’s why we partner with law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders to address this issue,” Walgreens spokesperson Marty Maloney said in an emailed statement.

“We frequently work with law enforcement agencies on sting operations across California and the rest of the county as part of a multifaceted approach to combat organized retail crime and theft, and invite future and additional collaborations, including with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.”

Gandhi declined to talk about deputies’ specific operations in these instances and their efforts to stop retail theft. But he noted the Sheriff’s Office works with businesses to tailor a specific response to each situation.

At Walgreens, deputies brought homeless outreach teams because many of the alleged suspects were unhoused residents, Gandhi said. Cooper added on X that many suspects slept outside the store at night.

“Small businesses, grocery stores, and the ‘mom and pop’ shops are the businesses who truly suffer,” Cooper wrote. “They are the ones operating on razor thin margins and cannot afford to absorb these losses and simply pass the cost on to you. Think about this the next time you choose where to shop.”

California Retailers Association

Cooper also criticized the California Retailers Association, which represents the interests of retailers before the state Legislature.

He said his talks with the group’s CEO Rachel Michelin to address Proposition 47 have failed.

Prop 47, passed by voters in 2014, has drawn increased scrutiny by law enforcement for being too lenient. The referendum recategorized some nonviolent property crimes causing less than $950 in losses as misdemeanors. Criticism of Prop 47 has mounted as videos of so-called “smash and grab” robberies go viral on social media.

Gandhi accused the California Retailers Association of fighting against Proposition 20, which aimed to increase penalties for shoplifters. It failed with 62% of voters rejecting the referendum in 2020.

“They could care less about consumer safety or rising costs,” Gandhi said.

A spokeswoman for the California Retailers Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Experts have mixed reactions about the effect of Prop 47 on property crime.

Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine, recently told The Sacramento Bee that crime isn’t the only factor causing problems at retail stores — it’s part of a puzzle.

“These organized criminal rings, the smash-and-grabs that are making the news, the commercial robberies that we’re seeing, the commercial burglaries, none of those particular forms of retail theft have anything to do with Prop 47, by definition,” Kubrin has said.

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