Walnut Creek will beef up its police presence by spending $2 million over 18 months to add five officers to a new downtown beat, adding security cameras to the area, and flying a tether drone over Broadway Plaza.
At a special meeting Wednesday morning, the City Council unanimously voted to spend half of its remaining unallocated federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on measures to prevent a repeat of the coordinated ransacking of Nordstrom on Nov. 20. Council member Matt Francois was absent and unable to vote, but did speak via Zoom.
An estimated 90 people pulled into Broadway Plaza about 8:45 p.m. that day in up to 25 vehicles with license plates either removed or covered. In just a few minutes, they rushed the store and made off with $87,000 of merchandise and caused another $38,000 in damage. Three workers were injured, including one who was pepper sprayed by the same person who allegedly punched and kicked a female employee.
Police have arrested three suspects, including one on felony probation who allegedly possessed a handgun at the time.
"I wish we could spend these funds elsewhere; I really do ... but this is the fire we need to put out," said Walnut Creek Mayor Kevin Wilk. "We need to ensure that we keep the community safe and that we provide the greatest deterrence possible from the city of Walnut Creek, to our Police Department and other measures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that this is the case."
The five police officers will cost $1.6 million through the end of June 2023. The city will also spend $215,000 for additional security cameras and $35,000 on the unmanned tether drone, which hovers 100 feet overhead.
The council will also allocate $130,000 for immediate overtime pay for additional officers three days a week through June 30, 2022, as recruitment and hiring of new officers typically takes anywhere from eight to 18 months, Police Chief Jamie Knox told the council.
The department currently has 75 officers working of its authorized 80 positions, a typical rotating ratio due to retirements and other reasons.
The council also formally approved sending letters to the county district attorney, state attorney general, state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom, expressing concern and asking for additional resources.
The incident made national headlines for its scale and boldness. Thieves arrived just before Nordstrom's 9 p.m. closing, essentially turning the street out front into what one officer described as a parking lot. The entire heist took about five minutes, which police said indicated a high degree of planning that will likely bring charges of felony conspiracy.
"We are following up on several leads and I do anticipate additional arrests in the coming weeks," Knox told the council.
The attack was one of many similar attacks in the Bay Area that weekend by dozens of armed suspects at stores in Oakland, San Francisco, Hayward, Pleasanton and San Jose. Authorities have said it's not clear whether the incidents are related.
The street running through Broadway Plaza is closed until at least the end of 2021.