Fresno is adding 24 new full-time police officers to help combat retail theft, thanks to a $23.6 million state grant — the largest awarded.
The Fresno City Council unanimously approved the funding, 7-0, at Thursday’s meeting. The grant will also hire a sergeant and two service technicians, as well as equipment such as license plate readers and cameras.
An increase in violent crimes over the last few years had lowered the department’s priority for combatting organized retail theft and stolen cars, Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama explained.
“This is going to really benefit our community because we focus on violent crime, and that’s the highest priority, obviously. But we also have to take care of our business community,” Balderrama told the council.
The three-year grant, from the Board of State and Community Corrections, will create the Fresno Metropolitan Area Organized Retail Task Force, in conjunction with Clovis PD, Fresno County Probation, and the Fresno County DA’s office. The goal is to reduce retail and auto thefts by 15% each.
“Once you start holding people accountable, I believe it’s really going to help us meet our goal,” Balderrama said.
Commercial burglaries were up 4.5% and larceny was up 34.4% from 2021 to 2022, according to Fresno PD data.
Money for Cameras
The grant will come with money for cameras. Balderrama said they would use them in similar places as the ShotSpotter system for detecting gunshots. The city will focus on retail corridors such as Blackstone Avenue, the Tower District, major malls, and Belmont Avenue.
It will also allow the police department to “tap into” store cameras, and more easily share information.
Balderrama said the problem in Fresno is not as bad as the Bay Area or southern California, and he wants to keep it that way.
“We’re going after organized retail theft and our detectives are going to identify the crews that are doing this, that are storming certain businesses and walking out with sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise,” Balderrama said.
Balderrama said even though it’s only three years of funding, the new officers will remain if the money is not renewed. They would fill vacant positions, he told the city council.
Retail Organizations Support
The California Retail Association helped lobby for the state grant. President/CEO Rachel Michelin said she is “thrilled” for Fresno’s award. She said retail theft in the Central Valley is growing.
“Particularly, we’re seeing it a lot with cargo thefts and with our railroads and those types of things. So it is a growing problem,” Michelin said. “A lot of this is about deterring people from doing the behavior in the first place. We’d rather them know that there will be a consequence for their behavior. And by seeing more law enforcement present, I think that does deter them from committing the crime in the first place.”
Small and ethnically-owned businesses feel the brunt of retail theft, said John Kabateck, California State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. He said the grant “represents a positive step forward.”
Kabateck says more needs to be done, including repairing “the broken machine known as Prop 47.”
“Criminals will continue to thumb their nose at the law and prey on our uncertain, frightened Main Street businesses. That’s why it’s nice to see the California Legislature finally taking this issue seriously, and I give some credit to new Speaker Robert Rivas for finally tackling something previous Capitol leaders seemingly wanted nothing to do with. Unless and until the state addresses this problem comprehensively, we will continually be confronted with the challenges posed by retail crime,” Kabateck said.
Fresno was one of 38 recipients of the $242 million total in grant funding. Fresno, by far, received the largest award, in part because it is collaborating with other local agencies.