Fresno cracks down on stolen shopping carts

FRESNO, Calif.

Possessing a shopping cart outside of a store's property is itself considered theft. And police say those carts are too often used to carry stolen recyclables, everything from plastic bottles to copper wire to recycling centers, which some say are magnets for trouble.

It's a common site in Fresno: someone scavenging through trash bins and loading recyclables into a shopping cart to be hauled to a recycling center, sold for cash. It's something business owners, like Rick Austin, want the city to stop.

"The shopping carts are a method in which the thieves are stealing our copper wire and recyclable products out of our personal property, or off our property," said Austin.

The City Council passed the new ordinance, which is aimed at reducing shopping carts and crime. One step is making stores responsible for their carts.

"Their part is going to be simply to make sure their carts don't leave their lot," said Fresno police Sgt. Robert Dewey.

Police also plan to be more aggressive in charging those who have taken carts from stores with misdemeanor theft. And after hearing complaints from property owners, the city is also planning to crack down on recycling centers where the stuff in those carts is sold.

"These recycle centers to us, they are just centers of a crime ring," said Vince McNamara, a business owner. "They enable these people to continue their lifestyle. The shopping carts they use are stolen."

City Council President Steve Brandau said going after the shopping carts is not an attack on the homeless.

"One of the main problems has really nothing to do with the homeless; it has to do with the pervasiveness of using shopping carts to transport stolen property," said Brandau.

The main focus of the ordinance will be getting stores to take steps to keep their carts on their property. Police note for example that some stores have electronic devices that lock the wheels on carts if they leave the property. Short of installing those expensive devices, stores will be encouraged to either patrol their parking lots or hire a service to promptly recover their carts.

An ordinance preventing recycling centers from receiving any property brought in by shopping cart is also being considered.

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