SANTA CLARA — Police discourage retail workers from confronting shoplifters, but a Grocery Outlet employee on Thursday decided to photograph the license plate of thieves fleeing with $590 worth of energy drinks.
Her reward: The bandits nearly ran her over.
The employee, described as a quiet woman, took Friday off from work because she was “shaken up,” said store manager CeCe Ruiz. The staff are told to prioritize their safety, Ruiz said, but she understands the instinct to want to intervene. She’s done it herself, despite her boss telling her not to.
“If you make it too easy,” Ruiz said, “they will come every day.”
The confrontation Thursday highlights the growing dangers California retail workers face amid a surge of thefts that are frustrating retailers and shoppers and driving political debate over the best way to deal with property and drug crimes.
These seemingly minor crimes can have deadly consequences. A San Francisco market employee died Tuesday of injuries after he’d grabbed a bat to confront a thief last week who then knocked him down, struck him with the bat and fled. Last year, a grocery clerk was fatally shot confronting thieves stealing liquor from a San Jose Safeway.
Lawmakers are scrambling for answers. A bill by state Sen. Dave Cortese of San Jose aims to protect employees from workplace violence by requiring employers to have safety plans. But Cortese on Friday removed language that would have barred bosses from encouraging workers to confront shoplifters after retailers and other critics assailed it in a rally Thursday at the Capitol where they argued it would invite more thefts.
The change allowed Cortese’s bill, SB 553, to pass out of committee Friday, and it heads next to a vote of the full Assembly. The legislation aims to address a lack of workplace safety planning revealed in the aftermath of the 2021 Valley Transportation Authority mass shooting, and the new language, Cortese said, simply says the plan should specify any employees responsible for security.
But the pushback from small-business owners and Republican lawmakers who have blamed Democratic criminal justice reforms for rising crime demonstrate the frustration over rashes of retail thefts that have forced retailers to add costly and cumbersome security and factored into some store closures.
Santa Clara police described the Grocery Outlet incident through their social media account: Around 5 p.m. Thursday, a business in the 3500 block of Homestead Road reported two suspects shoplifting a cart of items. When an employee confronted the suspects, they grabbed the worker to try to take the employee’s phone away before fleeing the store.
In an effort to gather evidence, police said, the employee began capturing photos of the suspects’ vehicle, and while doing so the suspects attempted to run the employee over.
Ruiz, who spoke with the employee, said she’d been collecting shopping carts when someone pointed out the shoplifters, and she quickly took a photo of the license plate.
A coworker watched the car nearly hit the employee as the alleged thieves fled, but because “it happened so fast,” the employee who snapped off photos of the vehicle didn’t realize how close they came to her, Ruiz said.
“She’s a real quiet girl, and you don’t expect her to go after anybody,” Ruiz said.
Police said the employee called 911 and provided a description of the vehicle. Officers anticipated the car’s path and located the suspects at El Camino Real and Los Padres Boulevard. Both were identified as the robbery suspects. A firearm and narcotics were also located in the vehicle, and police arrested the suspects and booked them into the county jail.
Police didn’t immediately identify the suspects, who appeared to be women in police photos in the social media post.
“Thankfully, the employee emerged from the incident unharmed,” Santa Clara Police said in their social media post. “In situations like these, we strongly encourage our community members to prioritize their safety and contact 911 immediately rather than putting themselves at risk.”
At around 5pm today, a business in the 3500 block of Homestead Road reported two suspects shoplifting a cart of items. An employee confronted the suspects, who responded by grabbing the employee in an attempt to take the employee’s phone away before fleeing the store. pic.twitter.com/CpZT4W0sQn
— Santa Clara Police (@SantaClaraPD) September 1, 2023
Ruiz said that when she recognizes repeat offenders, she won’t let them into the store. One time, she followed a shoplifter who was unloading her full cart of stolen groceries into her SUV.
“I ran over there, and I just took the cart, and she’s like, ‘My purse!’,” Ruiz said. The woman grabbed her purse from the cart and took off, and Ruiz returned the cart to the store and found her boss.
“I said, ‘Look, this cart almost left the store, and I got it back,’” Ruiz said. “He always says, ‘Don’t do that. Let it go.’ ”
Ruiz said she was struck that the light-colored SUV the suspects were driving Thursday looked “brand new,” as though the owners could afford not to steal.
“It’s odd that people would do that,” Ruiz said. “Everybody works so hard to get what they need, and then you have these people that just come in trying to steal. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
Businesses close because of this rampant stealing, she said, and she doesn’t want Grocery Outlet to suffer the same. She thinks police should do more about it.
“I have lots of bills to pay,” Ruiz said. “I have rent every month. I have car payments every month. I need my job.”