DOWNTOWN LA — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $15.6 million state grant to fund a new “task-force” at the Sheriff’s Department aimed at addressing “retail theft,” but at least one county supervisor is concerned the funds could result in the profiling of Black and other people of color.

Sheriff Robert Luna said the task-force will address organized retail theft, including smash-and-grabs, catalytic converter thefts, and “cargo theft.” But Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell (which covers a portion of south and west Los Angeles County) expressed some concerns saying she hopes it won’t result in the profiling of Black and other people of color.

“I don’t know that my colleagues have had the experience I have had of being followed around stores when I am there to shop,” said Mitchell, who is Black.

She went on to say that she hopes this task force doesn’t result in more merchandise being placed behind security glass, in “certain communities,” as major retail stores have been increasingly doing. She suggested including community based organizations as part of the task-force to help come up with “sound policy.”

At yesterday’s regular meeting, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s (LASD) gave a presentation, led by Luna, explaining the details of the grant which was provided by the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), with Governor Gavin Newsom’s emphatic endorsement.

Luna acknowledged Mitchell’s concerns and said, “great idea, can’t argue with anything that you said.” But did not commit to including community organizations as part of the task-force, and did not respond with what steps the LASD might take to prevent such discrimination.

“We need more oversight on what they are doing with their funding,” said Janet Asante who is with the Justice LA Coalition, which advocates to uplift communities impacted by incarceration, during public comment.

The grant funding was part of California’s “organized retail theft prevention grant program,” which has awarded about a quarter billion dollars ($242 million) to 38 city police and sheriff departments across the state. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) also received $15.6 million; the Santa Monica Police Department received $6.1 million; the Beverly Hills Police Department received $4.5 million (Beverly Hills has a population of about 33,000, compared to LA’s 4 million); and the San Fernando Police Department received about half a million dollars.

This investment will provide “more police, more arrests, and more takedowns,” according to a press release issued by the Governor Gavin Newsom’s office.

The LASD task-force has already been operating since Sept. 5, and the grant was awarded on Sept. 14, but formal approval of the grant by the Board was required. The force now consists of existing personnel pulled from other substations into this new group, and includes one lieutenant, three sergeants, and 30 detectives and is meant to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies, the LA County District Attorney’s Office, and local businesses.

The task-force’s responsibilities will include “aggressively investigating criminal chains,” along with substantial undercover work, said LASD spokesperson Lt. Derrick White. The force will not only investigate people responsible for theft but anyone who participates, including getaway drivers and those selling stolen goods.

The task-force will also educate businesses on how to prevent theft, said Luna, with such recommendations as where to put cameras, and lighting for better surveillance, or strategic ways to place merchandise.

Luna is expected to report back to the supervisors on Oct. 17 on his department’s plan to utilize the awarded grant money and how they will collaborate with surrounding law enforcement agencies.

Ashley Orona is a journalist and community organizer from South Central Los Angeles. She loves spending time with her family, supporting local businesses, and finding new scenic views around LA.