WALNUT CREEK — The city will station uniformed police officers at Nordstrom in the downtown Broadway Plaza, agreeing to a request from the luxury department store to beef up security and ward off potential crime.
The City Council voted unanimously at a meeting Tuesday to allow a police presence at the store in a pre-emptive effort to deter thefts or robberies.
City staff noted in the meeting’s agenda that a “regional uptick in flash mob ‘grab and run’ thefts,” where people pretending to be shoppers suddenly snatch items off the shelves and make a quick getaway.
There have not been any grab-and-run thefts at this Nordstrom. However, in June, there were a series of grab-and-run thefts at stores such as Luis Vuitton and TheRealReal in Palo Alto, where thieves made off with designer handbags valued at tens of thousands of dollars.
Police believe some of the snatch-and-grabs are being run by organized crime groups, according to a city staff report.
In a formal agreement with Nordstrom, the city will allocate about $231,000 in voluntary overtime pay for officers willing to work an extra shift stationed at the store. Nordstrom will fully reimburse the city for its expenses.
The city will send one officer to Nordstrom as part of the agreement. There’s already an officer shift at the nearby Apple Store — another one of the high-end retailers in the outdoor Broadway Plaza — that the police department assigned on its own after a rash of similar snatch-and-run thefts.
“We started having a presence there more consistently … and they all but evaporated, all those grab-and-runs,” said Walnut police Lt. Anthony Mangini at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Nordstrom is hoping for the same type of success.”
Nordstrom already maintains its own security and won’t scale back that staffing in the wake of the agreement with the city. Mangini told the council that the city police’s presence will create a “visible deterrence” of crime at the store, dissuading anyone from suddenly making away with its goods.
While the city has had some past pushback from residents who have criticized the city’s police for its handling of emergency response, there were no such concerns raised during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. But one resident did worry that the City Council could be setting itself up for a possible lawsuit over actions a police officer carries out on Nordstrom’s behalf.
“I feel that a retail establishment such as Nordstrom should have its own security in place,” said Jeff Elfont, who lives and works in Walnut Creek.
“I know there’s a growing reluctance for (Nordstrom) to become involved in the incidents described as organized theft,” Elfont added. “But to then hire a police officer … what would happen if an incident should happen there inside Nordstrom? The liability would then fall on the citizens of Walnut Creek, not Nordstrom.”
Later in the meeting, city attorney Steve Mattas concurred that the city could be legally responsible for police conduct in the store, since the officers are city employees. But the council members voted to approve the agreement anyway, with Councilwoman Cindy Silva noting that “the liability would be no different than if Nordstrom made a 911 call when a crime was in progress.”