Petty Crimes, Big Impact: A Continuous Threat to Business Owners, Part 2
by Ishshah Padilla | Wed, October 25, 2023
FRESNO, Calif. – “What can we do to protect our people,” this is a question Lorean Haupt, President of Jem Management Corporation, asks regarding the safety of her employees.
The same feeling resonates with many business owners; many of whom shoulder the burden of their employees’ safety due to the absence of accountability among those committing thefts and petty crimes.
“This issue is bigger than Fresno; it’s a nationwide concern,” said Nick Rocca, Vice Chair-Government Affairs Division, Owner/Operator of Rocca Ranches. “The impact of COVID-19 and the civil unrest in 2020 has exacerbated the difficulties related to homelessness, rising crime rates and the recruitment of law enforcement.”
Employers find themselves in the position of not only training their staff on how to manage violent incidents and theft but also imparting the crucial message: “Nothing in the store is worth your life, ever.”
“Yeah we are losing money, everybody is losing money but when you get to a point where you lose a life because it keeps escalating, you can’t get that back,” said Haupt.
Accountability: A Key Question
While many of these business owners attribute the majority of crimes against their businesses to the unhoused population, they acknowledge that it’s not exclusive to this group. Their underlying belief is that a crime remains a crime, regardless of the perpetrator.
This is not an anti-homeless but anti-crime call for help.
In a recent incident, a store employee was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon after confronting an unhoused man who refused to leave the front of a store in southwest Fresno.
Both got into a physical altercation involving a bat and a stick-like weapon. According to Fresno Police, this may have been a self-defense situation that went too far.
This is a clear example of how fast a business owner, or their employees can go from the “victim” to “suspect” when trying to protect their property.
According to General Manager Brian Herman with CIS Security, in 2022 the company reported or responded to 8,528 incidents of trespassing and loitering in nonresidential common areas, compared to 2,211 incidents in 2017 throughout its Fresno/Clovis service area.
Numerous business owners emphasize that individuals within the unhoused population who struggle with drug and mental health issues are not held accountable for their actions. Their concern is not directed at their housing status but rather at the negative actions some choose to engage in, which detrimentally affect businesses.
These actions encompass property damage, spitting in an employee’s face, theft, customer disturbances, posing risks to others, and various other offenses.
“The homeless have rights, but what are the rights of a business owner in protecting their business and employees,” expressed one frustrated business owner.
CIS Security has had to change the way they approach trespassing and loitering situations because of the increase in attacks against its security guards.
“Assault on my officers by transients, that is way up,” Herman said. “Everyone is more brazen because the consequences are no longer there with the justice system.”
As a security company, Herman has seen how businesses now–more than ever before—are requesting security services due to the simple fact their employees are scared to walk from their vehicles to their buildings.
Business owners understand that there is only so much law enforcement officials can do. Some argue that this is a social issue, meaning there are no policies in place that push people to get the help they need.
The Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health provides two clinicians to work alongside Fresno police officers. Two clinicians, they say are not enough to handle the mental health needs in the City of Fresno.
Services and resources are there but people choose not to accept them, according to Fresno Police. The Homeless Assistance Response Team, or HART contacts dozens of people daily, but only one or two take the help.
“There are services and things available, the problem is there is no accountability. Someone said, well how do you enforce it? Well, I can’t make people do that,” said Fresno Police Captain Don Gross. “So, what we need to do as a society, if you want to change that–we need to have accountability measures by which law enforcement can enforce or a homeless advocate can enforce or a mental health advocate can enforce treatment services to help that person to not be that problem.”
A unhoused individual, right now suffering from severe mental health disorders can be held against their will at a psychiatric hospital for up to three days. Following the 72 hours, they must be released if they promise to take their prescribed medication and receive the help of other services.
To help aid the homelessness crisis in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently launched “CARE Court,” a civil court process where families and first responders are among those who can petition on behalf of those on the streets diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders to get the help they need “before their condition worsens.”
The program kicked off in San Francisco, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Glenn counties as part of Phase 1. Los Angeles is set to begin the program later this year.
The selected counties are the pilots who then will pass on the necessary information to the remaining 52 counties in the state. Fresno County being part of Phase 2, which has until year two from the time CARE Court was approved through legislation to implement.
Multiple Fresno County departments are actively working on formulating a plan and learning from the Phase 1 counties on how to best develop this initiative locally.
Some argue the program’s eligibility criteria are too restrictive and the investments should have been directed towards existing programs.
In conversation, business owners aim to shift the narrative: California can still maintain its compassionate reputation, but accountability should not be overlooked or missing.
According to the 2022 Crime in California Report, conducted by the California Department of Justice, there was a 16.9% increase in commercial robbery crimes from 2021 to 2022, resulting in 15,729 reported incidents.
In 2022, misdemeanor arrests for petty theft in California totaled 16,660 reported incidents compared to 13,569 in 2021.
Petty crimes, often categorized as misdemeanors, can lead to penalties such as fines, probation, or a sentence of up to one year in a county jail.
In 2014, the passage of Proposition 47 altered non-violent offenses to be classified as misdemeanors instead of felonies. This means that someone who steals up to $950 may now face misdemeanor charges and subsequently be granted a court date before being released.
Each individual case varies of course, to find out more about Proposition 47 follow the link here.
For Larceny-Theft Crimes, the state saw a nearly 28% increase in shoplifting and a 5.3% increase in burglary crimes at non-residential buildings from 2021 to 2022.
In 2022, the City of Clovis recorded an increase in shoplifting incidents, rising from 315 in 2021 to 335. On the other hand, robbery cases decreased from 52 in 2021 to 46 in 2022.
By using the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Clovis saw a 3.15% uptick in larceny theft from 2021 to 2022.
The Fresno Police Department’s 2022 yearly report reveals a 4.5% increase in commercial burglaries between 2021 and 2022, reaching a total of 2,624 incidents.
Moreover, larceny saw a significant surge of 34.4%, while robbery incidents also rose by 18.8% during this period.
Nationally, the United States reported 6,851,830 larceny-theft incidents from 2021 to 2022 in which over 12,000 law enforcement agencies submitted their data to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, according to the FBI Crime Data Explorer.
It’s important to clarify that not all of these statistics pertain exclusively to crimes targeting businesses.
The data shows the number of incidents reported, however, many business owners who have been targets of petty crimes would argue that the data that pertains to them is inaccurate due to the large number of incidents that go undocumented.
This is because many business owners believe that reporting minor crimes may not yield significant results for a variety of reasons.
What is Law Enforcement doing to Combat Petty Crimes
To better understand the system used by law enforcement, members of the Chamber Board of Directors met with Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama and several senior members of the police force to learn what is being done and how the business community can be of service to help decrease petty crimes.
Because of Fresno PD’s constraints, the group came to understand that the police department shares a similar frustration. The department operates under a priority system, which means that if there are ongoing violent crimes elsewhere, resources are allocated to those incidents ahead of addressing a business’s report of a minor crime.
Business owners recognize that violent crimes rightfully take precedence over their reports of theft or minor incidents. However, the lingering question is: When do their concerns make it to the priority list?
The Fresno Police Department has about 855 police officers, with a target of reaching 1,000 to match the city’s size. Balderrama believes that reducing violent crimes which have shown a decrease —will enable officers to maintain a stronger street presence and enhance patrols in support of local businesses.
As part of the Governor’s Real Public Safety Plan, the state board granted over $267 million to 55 law enforcement agencies across the state to combat retail crime.
“The funding would be used to create fully staffed retail theft investigative units, increase arrests, install advanced surveillance technology, train loss prevention officers, create new task forces, increase cooperation with businesses and the community, target criminals in blitz operations, as well as crack down on vehicle and catalytic converter theft,” said the Governor’s Office.
Fresno County law enforcement agencies will receive more than $23 million over the next three years. The Fresno Police Department will receive the majority of the funding, over $15 million. According to Chief Balderrama, the grant will allow the department to make a hefty investment in hiring 25 more police officers, implement new software solutions, adding and replacing surveillance cameras throughout the city, new partnerships, and a crucial marketing initiative to address this issue.
These additions are on top of the work Mayor Dyer’s administration has already been doing in partnership with the Fresno Police Department to assure Fresno is on the right track to combat these crimes. Since taking office, Dyer has worked to reduce the police department’s vacancy rate by adding 63 police officers to the force.
The grant will also add staff to the Real Time Information Center, formally Real Time Crime Center to help bridge the gap of connectivity.
To aid that connection, an upcoming mapping system, which has yet to be unveiled, will give people the ability to track reported crime locations.
A software system is also in the testing phase, if successful a business can choose to install specialized cameras, allowing Fresno Police to tap into that feed. This will allow the police department to see in real-time the person trying to break into that business, or the group that just carried out a theft at a retail store.
While real-time surveillance allows law enforcement to witness crimes as they happen, it’s important to note that the presence of live officers isn’t guaranteed for immediate response due to availability constraints. However, integrated surveillance plays a crucial role in documenting details such as suspect identification, vehicle descriptions, and timestamped information. This data can then be utilized by officers to conduct thorough investigations when resources become available.
According to Fresno Police, the integrated camera systems will primarily be placed at the entrances and exits of businesses. The company collaborating with the Fresno Police Department on this initiative estimates the cost at $500 for installation, with an additional annual service fee of $300, providing access to up to eight streams.
By bolstering its ranks with additional officers, detectives, advanced technology, and forging strategic partnerships, the department intends to redirect its attention towards enhancing ‘customer service and quality control’ for lower-priority calls. Achieving this transition is an ongoing process, mentioned the Chief, who assures that they are actively working toward this goal.
Coming Soon- Petty Crimes, Big Impact, Part 3
Business owners understand that finding real solutions and carrying them out will take a collective effort among legislatures, law enforcement, and communities.
The California Retailers Association (CRA) is one group advocating for policies that protect retail employees, customers, and the neighborhoods in which they operate.
Rachel Michelin, President of CRA explains how loopholes in Proposition 47 have brought unintentional consequences.
In order to move the needle, Michelin says that sounding the alarm as a collective can get the attention of the legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Locally, the Fresno Chamber explores what other organizations made up of small business owners have set in motion to safeguard their livelihoods.