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South Coast leaders push for legal help in battling organized mass retail thefts

A Santa Barbara man is being held by authorities after his young children were found murdered in Mexico.
Photo by Tim Hufner/Unsplash
Some Ventura County leaders are seeking a new version of an expired law which allowed prosecutors to combine theft cases across county lines. They say it would mean tougher sentences for serial thieves.

Law would allow prosecutors to combine cases which cross county lines.

They are crimes which are leaving people shocked, and afraid. You've seen the images on television. Some organized groups of people are committing mass thefts around the state from stores ranging from Louis Vuitton to Home Depot.

Some Ventura County officials are pushing for action to help tackle the problem.

Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said the problem isn’t new, but now it’s becoming more flagrant, and more dangerous.

"When we see 80 people go into a retail establishment in the Bay Area, and plunder the shelves, and knock people over, that kind of behavior is going to lead to violence," said Ayub. "It's just indicative of the scope of the problem."

The Sheriff teamed up with Ventura County District Attorney Eric Nasarenko to seek reinstatement of a law which they believe makes it easier to prosecute these type of cases, and to get longer sentences.

"Rather than try the same defendants in multiple courtrooms, we can consolidate all these organized retail thefts into one courtroom, in one county," said Nasarenko.

The DA says the expired law was used successfully in Ventura County more than a dozen times before it expired.

Democratic Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin says she will reintroduce the bill when the State Legislature reconvenes in January.

"It was a big issue, that it was difficult to prosecute these kind of organized retail thefts if the perpetrator went into multiple jurisdictions," said Irwin.

Nasarenko says a number of recent organized retail theft cases in the county involved criminals working across county lines.

Ayub says while the organized retail thefts crimes in our region might not be the same large scale as in other areas, he thinks people would be shocked to know how many involving smaller groups have been occurring locally.

The Sheriff says with many of the those in the organized theft rings repeat offenders, more tools are needed to try to get them, and keep them off the streets.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.