Here's why Berkeley didn't apply for the state retail theft grant.

Berkeley has already seen $3 million in reported losses this year from retail theft. That's up from $750,000 last year at this time.

Here's why Berkeley didn't apply for the state retail theft grant.
Multiple businesses in northwest Berkeley, including The North Face Outlet, REI, Sephora and lululemon, have been frequent retail theft targets this past year. Google Street View

Berkeley police did not apply for a statewide grant to address retail theft — in part due to the department's ongoing staffing crisis, BPD said Friday.

Earlier this month, the state announced that it would "award the largest-ever single investment to combat organized retail crime in California history … sending over $267 million to 55 cities and counties."

Since then, the city of Oakland next door has been making headlines for its failure to apply for the grant.

A number of Scanner readers have since asked TBS: What about Berkeley?

Well, it turns out Berkeley didn't apply for the grant either.

According to preliminary statistics obtained from BPD this week, retail theft has been a growing problem in Berkeley as it has been elsewhere in the Bay Area.

There have already been 835 cases related to retail theft in Berkeley this year, with nearly $3 million in reported losses.

Last year to date, there had been 670 cases with reported losses of about $750,000.

Overall last year, the city tallied 940 cases related to retail theft with reported losses of about $1 million.

Short staffing played role in retail theft grant decision

Unlike Oakland, which reportedly missed the deadline to apply, the Berkeley Police Department said its decision was intentional.

Berkeley police "did some preliminary work to propose applying for the grant," but ultimately determined that it "would have required us to stand up a unit."

"We don’t have the staffing," Berkeley police said Friday in a prepared statement.

Berkeley is not alone: Many jurisdictions across the nation have struggled with police staffing in recent years.

Here, the crisis has reached historic levels, officials have said.

The department is authorized to hire about 180 police officers but, in the past year, has often had fewer than 120 solo officers available to work due to injuries, leave, training and other factors.

In December, Berkeley's police chief described the crisis as "severe."

And, while the department has added resources to try to boost the ranks, it has been difficult to keep up with openings related to attrition and retirement.

In early April, Berkeley reorganized its patrol teams to reduce the possibility of open beats, resulting in fewer officers than ever before on the street.

The city is now undertaking a study to find out exactly how many officers Berkeley needs, particularly as officials have sought to shift some of the duties historically handled by police to civilian workers, such as with the city's new Specialized Care Unit crisis response team.

Technology also was a factor

On Friday, the Berkeley Police Department said it wasn't just staffing that had been at play in the decision not to apply for the retail theft grant.

Part of the goal of the grant is to update technology, such as security cameras and license plate readers, used to catch retail thieves.

BPD said the department "did not need the additional funding in the way that other agencies did" because the City Council recently approved a new license plate reader system set to place 52 ALPRs at key locations around the city.

City officials also separately approved new surveillance cameras designed to help solve crime.

BPD did acknowledge that retail theft "is of concern" in Berkeley at this time.

As a result, the department has periodically "performed special operations at some hot spots" to try to address the issue.

"We have businesses affected by theft numerous times a week who ask what our department is doing to assist with these ongoing thefts," BPD said. "Our department continues to monitor theft trends within the city and aims to provide greater patrol presence in those areas."

BPD's Community Services Bureau has also worked with business owners, via the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design program, to help them be less vulnerable to thieves.

That program is open to everyone in the community.

"Building these community contacts and helping businesses to know what to look for has assisted our department and community members firsthand with mitigating problems," BPD said Friday.

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