An unconfirmed report that a large group of young people gathered last weekend at Valley Plaza to commit theft has provoked an angry response on social media.
The report originated with a call that mall security made to the Bakersfield Police Department Saturday afternoon, Sgt. Nathan McCauley said Monday. The caller said about 100 people in their teens and 20s had split into smaller groups in order to steal items from stores inside the mall, McCauley reported.
The call, which McCauley said was repeated and overheard on police radio, prompted some local news media to report on the alleged group of thieves. But he said police never heard from anyone claiming to have been victimized by a member of such a group.
"I don't have any follow-up to show that that occurred,” he said. "There’s a good reason to wait to see if anybody confirmed it."
The lack of confirmation didn't stop people from expressing outrage online.
A local magazine's Facebook post about the alleged incident elicited more than 70 online comments. Many of the commenters blamed parents for allowing their children to commit such crimes. They called for harsh punishment.
"Throw them and their parents in jail!!!!" one commenter wrote.
Others proposed cutting off the hands of the offenders. Some said the alleged perpetrators should be beaten or shot.
The alleged mall gathering even prompted a Facebook discussion of the state's criminal justice system.
"Nothing can be done about it when the voters keep putting soft on crime law makers in office," one commenter wrote. "Just a cost of doing business in (California). Companies raise prices, middle class tax payers lose again."
Valley Plaza officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Interviews with people who work at the mall suggest that thefts are a common problem at Valley Plaza and that certain stores have suffered repeated, brazen thefts by people who appeared to be working together. But they were unaware of instances of very large groups of people coordinating their efforts to commit theft.
Kayla Almeida, who works at a kiosk in the mall, said the perpetrators tend to be in their teens and 20s. But she expressed surprise at the size of the group alleged to have committed thefts Saturday.
"It's usually just, like, two people" working together to steal merchandise, she said.
Mall security personnel typically take little to no action against the suspected thieves, she added.
"They don't really do anything about it because they say they can't," she said. "All they do is they do a report and that's it."
Ryan Shackelford, manager of an accessories store inside the mall, said groups of thieves cause chaos then grab clothing indiscriminately and run off.
"If they think they can resell to somebody, they'll take it," he said.
Valley Plaza suffered a public relations setback last fall after two people were injured and the mall was placed on lockdown following reports of shots fired near the mall’s food court.
Employees and others said they heard gunshots after a commotion involving a group of more than half a dozen people.
Bakersfield police called the shooting an isolated incident between two groups.