(The Center Square)– The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced an indictment against a man who allegedly stole from cosmetic stores around the Phoenix metropolitan area on Monday, and County Attorney Rachel Mitchell is hoping to send a warning to aspiring thieves.
Yosvany Maza Portilla was indicted on 20 counts of organized retail theft for his alleged actions over a year and a half, and some of the merchandise he stole from stores like Ulta and Sephora was worth more than $11,500, according to the attorney’s office news release.
Mitchell told The Center Square in an exclusive interview that she is taking a different approach from other heavily-populated areas around the county. In neighboring California, nine of the 15 most populated counties had an increase in robberies on “commercial establishments” in 2022, when compared with 2019, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
“Eventually, my hope is that when people understand that we are extremely serious about this, that it dwindles off. That these major players go somewhere else, prison, first of all, or back to their own home states. But that’s what we want to do, is to convince people that this is not the place. I think they’ve gotten the message from looking around the country, and there are a lot of places around this country that are not taking this seriously. That we are,” she said.
As for why Maricopa County is dealing with retail crime differently than other places of a similar size, she credited varying approaches in local leadership.
“It’s not who’s in the White House or who’s at the U.S. Capitol. It’s who the city council people are, whether they support and fund the police, and it’s who your district attorney or county attorney is. So my role, and when you have a city council that does not fund and support the police, and you have a DA or a county attorney saying, ‘I’m not gonna enforce the law,’ you get the disaster that has become Los Angeles or Chicago,” Mitchell, a Republican, said.
“Whereas here, you know, you have a county attorney saying, ‘I am going to enforce the law. You will be held accountable.’ And therefore it keeps it at bay. Anybody that thinks that criminals do not track criminal justice trends and enforcement hasn’t ever worked in the criminal justice system, they absolutely do,” she continued.
The desire to combat retail crime is not a new priority in Maricopa County. In 2022, the county attorney’s office created a group dedicated to fighting retail theft, according to KTAR News.
The largest city in Maricopa County is Phoenix, which is struggling with major staffing shortages in its police department. Mitchell said that her office serves as a “liaison” between retail stores and local authorities in order to make sure that misdemeanors are combined to charge as felonies when warranted.
“I think Phoenix has done an admirable job, given how short they are on staffing. They’re down hundreds of police officers, which makes it a lot harder to respond quickly and to handle these types of things,” she said. “But, they have still made it a priority because they understand the long-term impact of it. And we’ve also put some of our resources in to try to make up for some of those deficits. And so I think it’s still being handled.”
The county attorney warned that the impact could be more strongly felt in areas that “struggle more financially” which she said could hurt both large and small businesses alike.
In terms of making sure that Maricopa County does not have an increased retail theft problem, she says it’s important to use California as an example of what not to do.
“Take a look at what happened in California and let’s all learn a lesson from that and see when you put in these liberal policies of getting rid of bail, of not supporting the police, of announcing that you’re not going to enforce certain laws, this is what you end up with,” Mitchell said. “And if you do the same thing here, the same thing will happen. And this is my hometown. I don’t wanna see that happen. So let’s take a lesson from the past and not repeat it.”