Flash mob thieves a new concern for Fresno's Operation Christmas Presence

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Police in the Central Valley are on the lookout for flash mob retail thieves as they gear up to keep shoppers safe this holiday season.

The 24th year of Operation Christmas Presence in Fresno has the same crime prevention goal as every other year.

But this year, police are also concerned about a nationwide trend of big group thefts.

'Tis the season for tinsel greeting shoppers at River Park and for a giant Christmas tree behind the annual law enforcement announcement of Operation Christmas Presence.

Fresno police, the CHP, and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office are teaming up to send extra officers on patrol at every mall and shopping corridor.

"Mounted unit patrols, robbery and property detective units, our gang unit, our air support unit, and that's just to name a few," said Capt. Ryan Hushaw of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

Burglaries and robberies are happening less frequently in Fresno this year, according to police data.

They've recorded about half the burglaries as in 2020 -- 1370 in 2021 compared to 2745 to this point in 2020 -- and robberies are down almost 20%.

But as this holiday shopping season gets started, police across the country are watching a new flash mob theft trend.

Large groups of thieves have hit high-end stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles just in the last few days, prompting some businesses to board up windows or even surround buildings with yellow barbed wire.

Fresno police chief Paco Balderrama had a warning for anyone with designs on similar crimes in Fresno.

"For those people out there who may be planning any type of mob theft as we've seen in the north and the south, we're not going to tolerate that here," the chief said.

Some of the officers patrolling shopping areas will be undercover, but shoppers told us they like to see uniformed officers while they're looking for the presents they'll put under the tree this year.

"It does make it a little more safe knowing there is a little more security since it is crazy right now during this time," said Savannah Beltran of Madera.

Some reminders from police for shoppers:

It's best to park in a well-lit area and don't leave anything in plain view in the car.

If you can, shop with a friend.

But if you can't, try to be aware of your surroundings and don't get distracted.
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