There used to be a display of 30-packs of beer on the floor at the ampm at White Lane and Ashe Road.
But for about a month, all the 30-packs have been kept hidden in the back. Too many teenagers were stealing them, said Lisa Adam, assistant manager. And they did so brazenly, she said, walking in, picking up a couple of packs and walking out.
“The issue is that people don’t like to pay for their beer,” Adam said. “And they know the cops won’t come out anyway. It’s almost an approved theft.”
While teens trying to sneak out some alcohol is nothing new, convenience store employees say the problem of kids boldly stealing 30-packs of beer is getting worse each year. And police never seem to do anything about it, they said. Police say they have to prioritize calls and do what they can with the resources they have.
This is the new “beer run,” which has taken on an illicit meaning when thieves, often teens, steal multiple 30-packs of brew.
It’s become such a problem that the ampm at Ming Avenue and Stine Road had to seal cases of beer in plastic shrink wrap, said Monica Hernandez, an employee.
The store has been wrapping the cases for about a year, and the thefts have subsided, she said. But before that, groups would come in and make off up to four cases at a time.
Employees would report the thefts to the police, but no officers would show up, Hernandez said. The lack of response scared her.
“They’re just beer runs, but you don’t know what to expect with beer runners,” she said.
Every call police receive is prioritized depending on the seriousness of the crime, said Sgt. Uriel Pacheco of the Bakersfield Police Department.
If a store has a suspect in custody, police will come to make the arrest, Pacheco said. If not, the communications center will broadcast the report so that an officer who might be in the area can keep watch for anyone fleeing the scene. And the dispatchers encourage callers to make a report over the phone or online, he said.
“They have options when we don’t have officers,” he said.
Pacheco was not sure of the actual response time in beer run reports. He also did not have numbers of beer run reports or arrests readily available.
He understands business and employee concerns, he said. But, he assured, police do everything they can to help.
“We take every report and investigate it, and if we’re able to make an arrest, then that’s what we do,” Pacheco said.
Manny Kaur, manager of the Arco at F and 24th streets, said she’s called the police while the thieves were still in her store and told authorities to hurry if they wanted to catch the suspects. But they never come in time, she said.
Other times, she said, police tell her they’ll come in two to three business days. At least once, she said, it was a month before police came to check surveillance video and take a report.
Kaur’s store moved the beer display into the back four to five months ago. Her experience is that perpetrators usually act when an employee isn’t paying attention, she said.
Adam’s ampm at White and Ashe has tried to tackle the problem itself. Printouts of the thieves from surveillance footage line a wall in the hope that customers might recognize someone.
Adam said she’s tried to make it easier for the police to find the suspects. Once, she gave police a teen’s address she had gotten from one of his friends. But whenever she calls, she said, police just tell her to file a report online. She’s convinced that nothing is done with the report after that.
“I’ve never had an officer come out here” in response to an online report, Adam said. “If we’re lucky, they might take a report over the phone.”
Another time, a juvenile thief dropped his phone, so Adam kept it for police, who arrived eight hours later, she said.
In the six years she’s worked at the store, beer runs have become more frequent and the quantities of stolen goods have grown, she said.
She remembers her brother going on beer runs when they were children. But, she said, the problem has gotten worse over the years.
“It’s not about a lack of money,” she said. “It’s about a lack of class.”