Empire Center Has Become the Crime Mecca of Burbank

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Empire Center

Many corporations have moved their retail establishments to Burbank in the last 20 years and seen amazing results. It has translated to success for the companies and the community of Burbank. The AMC theatres in Burbank are the most attended movie establishments this side of the Mississippi River. Whole Foods has seen a business boon with one of their best openings ever in their current Burbank location.

We also have one of the busiest and most profitable shopping centers in Burbank, the Empire Center.

The city of Burbank touts it as “One of L.A.’s highest grossing shopping centers. The Empire Center is your go-to destination for major national retailers and great restaurants.” It encompasses more than 900,000 square feet. Stores in the Empire Center are thriving.

And so is the crime at the Empire Center. With the good comes the bad and the unfortunate side of business.

We asked the Burbank Police Department to give us a rundown of the crime happening at the Empire Center and they gave us some stunning numbers. The following statistics are for the 42 establishments in the Empire Center, which include 21 retail stores, 16 restaurants, two hotels, two specialty services, and a fitness center.

To better gauge the history of crime at the Empire Center, let’s examine the last couple of years.

In 2022, there were 397 reports of retail thefts, which was 45% of all retail thefts reported in the city of Burbank during that year. That alone should be a huge concern.

Of course, that was nothing compared to 2023, which saw a major rise in thefts to 866, which became 62% of all retail thefts reported in Burbank for that year. Police say retail crimes at the Empire Center increased 118% from 2022 to 2023.

Overall, crime in the city of Burbank decreased 1% from 2022 to 2023, although crime increased at the Empire Center by 27%. Included in these crimes were motor vehicle thefts and break-ins.

The Burbank police department has broken down the stats into very specific categories.

 A certain type of crime (known as “Estes”) is where shoplifting incidents escalate due to the use of force or fear to escape capture. However, if a suspect enters a store intending to use force or fear to commit theft, such as intimidating a clerk and demanding cash from a register, it would be classified as a robbery, which is different than an Estes crime.

In 2022, there were 84 robberies reported in Burbank. Of those robberies, 44 were Estes robberies, which is 52% of all robberies. Of those Estes robberies, 14 occurred at the Empire Center, which is 32% of all Estes Robberies during 2022. Compare that to last year (2023) when there were 112 robberies reported. This alone is a 33% increase in total robberies from the previous year.

Of those robberies, 58 were Estes robberies, which is still 52% of all robberies, which was a significant increase. Fifteen of those Estes Robberies occurred at the Empire Center, which is 26% of all Estes robberies during 2023.

It is important to note that all Estes robberies are felonies regardless of the amount stolen, even if the suspect has stolen an amount of merchandise below the $950 mark that distinguishes misdemeanors from felonies.

How about some more numbers to really put the crime in perspective at the Empire Center?

Provided by Burbank police, the crime rate is staggering at the Empire Center.

There were 325 auto burglary crimes reported in Burbank during 2022. That total escalated to 354 in 2023, which is a 9% increase. At the Empire Center, there were 32 auto burglaries reported in 2022, but the total dropped to 25 in 2023. That is a 22% decrease in auto burglary offenses at the Empire Center.

Crime at the Empire Center has had a direct impact on the safety of Burbank and its surrounding neighborhoods.

If you think about the amount of crime calls at the shopping center in general, a lot of marked police units were there frequently. It would make sense that there would be fewer crimes in the parking lot with the increased police presence.

While there was a decrease at the Empire Center, the rest of the city suffered because police were tied up at the Empire Center instead of patrolling the streets of Burbank.

Time is of the essence on these calls. Burbank police estimate that at least two marked units will respond to a robbery or theft call, which can be many more depending on the seriousness of the call.

If the person is cited for a misdemeanor, the process could take around 20 minutes, with at least two units involved. However, if a call is more serious and requires officers to arrest and book a suspect, the process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over two-plus hours, and that is if the suspect may need medical attention.

Once again, at least two units are tied up during that time plus the other units that may have also been dispatched until the suspect was apprehended.

When these calls are dispatched, units are pulled from their regular patrol areas to assist, which can lead to delays in routine calls made by the public that they would respond to in a timely manner.

Let’s break down the Empire Center and where the majority of calls are coming from.

Burbank police supplied us with the top 10 stores for retail thefts in the city of Burbank in 2022, with six in the Empire Center (stores in bold):

Walmart – 93
Macy’s – 78
Target (Empire Ctr.) – 74
Nordstrom Rack – 67
*Costco – 57
Hobby Lobby – 38
Target (Hollywood Way) – 29
Ulta – 24
Ralphs (1100 San Fernando) – 22
Marshalls – 22

Here are the 2023 numbers with Empire Center stores in bold:

Target (Empire Ctr.) – 349
Walmart – 177
Nordstrom Rack – 144
Macy’s – 111
*Costco – 84
Target (Hollywood Way) – 63
Sephora – 26
Ulta – 24
Marshalls – 22
Ralphs (1100 San Fernando) – 22

Here is a list of the more serious Estes Crimes that took place in the Empire Center by store the past two years:

Nordstrom Rack – 4 (2022) / 5 (2023)
Walmart – 4 (2022) / 5 (2023)
TJ Max – 2 (2022) / 1 (2023)
*Costco – 1(2022) / 1 (2023)
Lowes – 2 (2022)
Target – 1 (2022) / 1 (2023)
Bevmo – 1 (2023)
Sephora – 1 (2023)

*Note: Costco is considered part of the Empire Center.

Besides retail theft, Burbank police also track drug offenses, including Drug Equipment Violations (illegal drug paraphernalia) and Drug/Narcotic Violations (illegal drugs). There were 2,222 Drug Offenses reported in Burbank during 2022 and 1,648 reported in 2023. That is a 26% decrease in all of Burbank. At the Empire Center during 2022/2023 there were 832 Drug Offenses reported.

Burbank police have been diligent in compiling information. They even have the numbers broken down by months, days, and even hours when the majority of crime has occurred.

Retail theft by month was lowest from January through May at the Empire Center during 2022 and 2023. There was a spike in June, a dip in July, and then retail theft gradually increased at the Empire Center throughout the remainder of the year.

According to their records, the top days of the week for retail theft in 2022 and 2023 were Friday and Sunday. Retail theft for the two-year period was lowest on Tuesday and Saturday. Retail theft gradually increased after Tuesday and peaked on Friday.

A majority of retail theft in Burbank and the Empire Center occurred between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Let’s look at the number of arrests at the Empire Center.

There have been plenty at the Empire Center. Police issued 62 field citations and made 668 bookings for a total of 730 arrests in 2022. In 2023, that number jumped by 31%, with 166 field citations for a total of 954 arrests. Police say that overall, during 2022 and 2023, there were 635 Felony Bookings and 821 Misdemeanor Bookings at the Empire Center.

And these are just the ones that they catch.

And who is being arrested for these crimes? While the specific arrests are not readily available, we went back and looked at December of 2023 and came up with these numbers (note: these are approximate numbers with not all data available publicly):

Total arrests by Burbank police: 278
Total arrests of non-Burbank residents: 239
Total arrests at the Empire Center: 69

That number represents 86% of non-residents coming into Burbank to commit crimes, with 24% coming at the Empire Center.

We also went back to look at the recent month of April 2024, and compiled the following (once again approximate):

Total arrests made by Burbank Police: 223
Out-of-area residents arrested: 173
Empire Center arrests: 50

As per the police department’s analysis, the number is less in April but still shows 77% of the crime is committed by people not calling Burbank their home.

There is little doubt that the increase in retail theft crimes is largely due to the new directive by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. They tell local agencies to cite and release for non-felony crimes, and the criminals know that if they steal less than $950 worth of merchandise, they will only be cited and released within hours.

Are Burbank police aware of the problems with crime at the Empire Center? Absolutely. And they have been trying to address it.

Yes, armed with this information, Burbank police do run special details during different times of the year to try to catch the bad guys in the act. We will not disclose these here for operational reasons.

According to Sgt. Steven Turner, police are actively working on the problem. “Last November, Burbank PD held a Crime Prevention seminar and invited Loss Prevention teams from local businesses, predominately from the Empire Center,” said Turner.

“We discussed several topics, including different methods to manage retail theft and ways to better prepare for the holiday retail rush.  We also included recommendations they could make to the property management company. Our property detectives are in constant contact with our local retailers.”

There are times when a retailer will call the police on a theft and just want their merchandise back and not press charges. Retailers need to understand that shoplifters need to be caught and prosecuted.

“Burbank PD encourages our business victims to prosecute.  It’s ultimately up to the individual business, their policy, and they safety of their employees, on how they implement a Loss Prevention Team.  Burbank PD are dispatched to thefts in progress or those already detained by Loss Prevention.  Burbank PD will return the recovered stolen merchandise to the business while also completing the detention or arrest”, said Turner.

Turner stated that the department would like to see the management of the Empire Center do more to help keep crimes in check. Within the past couple of years, Lowe’s installed three cameras in the parking lot to watch and record activity in front of their store.

Lowes has put three mobile cameras in the parking lot in front of their business. Burbank police would like to see the management company install them in all parking lots

Police would like to see the management company use the existing technology available, including installing cameras throughout the property, ideally with license plate reader ability. They would also like to see the management company continue to supply uniformed security.

We have asked Tiarna Real Estate Services, Inc., the company that manages the Empire Center property, to comment on the crime situation and what they have done or are willing to do and they have not responded to our request for comment.

Burbank Mayor Nick Schultz was asked if the City Council was aware of the acute crime situation at the Empire Center. “The City Council takes pride in what we have achieved in fostering a safe community, although there is always room for further improvement,” Schultz said.

“We maintain a close partnership with the Burbank Police Department to ensure that all areas of our city, including the Empire Center, are safe and secure. Our Police  Department is vigilant and proactive, always ready to address any challenges that may arise.”

What can be done to help the police and make the Empire Center a safer experience for shoppers who bring all of that tax money into the city? We asked Schultz if he thought putting in a substation using the millions of dollars the City receives each year in sales tax could be a solution. “As the Council begins our budget process, we’re evaluating the needs of the entire city to determine the most effective allocation of resources,” Schultz shared.

“We will carefully consider the potential benefits and past challenges as we explore various ways to enhance safety and security throughout the community. Our goal is to ensure that our actions align with the broader needs and priorities of all our residents and stakeholders. The Council remains committed to working closely with the Police Department, relying on their expertise and recommendations.”

When asked if Burbank could require the Empire Center property management company to help pay the bill for improved police availability or to help create a substation, Burbank City Attorney Joe McDougall would only say, “Available enforcement remedies are highly fact specific. As such, we do not speculate enforcement strategies for hypothetical scenarios.”

Schultz would also not be specific if the City could force the center to help pay the cost, saying, “The City recognizes the importance of collaboration between local businesses and law enforcement to maintain safety at popular locations like the Empire Center.” He also stressed that the police department was trying to address the situation the best way they could.

“The Burbank Police Department has taken a proactive approach by holding Crime Prevention seminars designed not only to address immediate concerns but also to establish ongoing communication between our police and local businesses like the ones at the Empire Center.

Moving forward, the Police Department plans to host additional seminars as well as engage with the property management of the Empire Center to discuss enhanced safety measures, such as the potential installation of camera systems with license plate readers. The goal is to ensure a safe environment for all visitors and shoppers through continuous dialogue and cooperative security strategies.”

Mayor Robert R. Bowne and an unidentified man on the right at the opening of the Burbank Police substation at the Media Center in, now The Burbank Town Center. December 1992 (BURBANK infocus)

Back in 1992, at the then Burbank Media Center Mall, Burbank police established a substation manned by four officers to combat shoplifting and other crimes to keep other officers on the streets. The space was donated by the Media Center to meet the needs of Burbank police.

After the crime and crowds went down substantially, the need for the substation was no longer needed and it was closed. While crime at the now Town Center still happens, it is nowhere near the same level as the Empire Center.

Establishing a substation at the Empire Center would keep officers on their beats throughout the City. Yes, there may be reasons for an increased response for certain crimes, but a majority of the crimes could be handled by officers working at the substation.

This becomes a win-win scenario with officers assigned to the Empire Center. It may begin to deter crime, and more officers patrolling Burbank streets also reduce crime and response times. It is believed that many ‘crews’ are behind much of the retail theft, and the Empire Center may be considered a soft target. Once they learn of a permanent police presence, they may rethink their tactics and robbery locations.

Glendale Police opened a substation at the Galleria 40 years ago, according to their Instagram page. It is located just outside the mall’s entrance on the second-floor bridge north of JC Penney and is open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, 7 days a week. If you would like to report a crime that occurred at the Galleria, ring the doorbell just outside of the Substation, and the officers at the station will be there to assist you. According to a Los Angeles Times article, the Galleria owners donated the office space and designed and furnished the station.

How would the city of Burbank pay for additional manpower?

One way is to use some of the windfall in tax money that the Empire Center brings in through sales tax each year. We asked the City how much revenue Burbank’s largest shopping center generated for the City. In 2022, through point of sale, Burbank received $3,753,418, and in 2023, $3,063,694.

As any good businessman will tell you, it is important to reinvest into your business. If Burbank thought this way, it could invest 20% of this money collected into proactive measures that would take the pressure off the police department by hiring additional officers and security and developing a substation on the property.

We asked Lowe’s to comment on the reason they decided to put their own cameras in the parking lot and they did not respond for comment on this story.

https://youtu.be/Vw7C31nuge0

    2 COMMENTS

    1. Mr. Sherwood, this is a stunning piece of reporting. I can’t thank you enough for your in-depth reporting on crime at the Empire Center.

      There has been crime at the Empire Center for quite some time. Things have escalated quite obviously in the last year. Although this is no excuse, with the drastic increase in inflation comes need and people will turn to stealing. I think we can see that this is happening.

      There’s also a great deal of entitlement that’s driving people to feel they don’t have to pay for things they want. This is also quite obvious.

      The statistics don’t lie.

      These statistics jump off the page: 2022 Retail Thefts at Target-74
      2023 Retail Thefts at Target-349

      Almost a 5-fold increase in retail thefts in one year. This is astonishing.

      Also, these statistics are horrifying:

      Total arrests by Burbank police: 278
      Total arrests of non-Burbank residents: 239
      Total arrests at the Empire Center: 69

      That number represents 86% of non-residents coming into Burbank to commit crimes, with 24% coming at the Empire Center.

      Criminals are coming to Burbank to commit these crimes. Taking monies raised through retail sales to shore-up the safety of these retail establishments, employees and customers is imperative.

      One of the wonderful things about Burbank is that retail establishments want to be here and as residents and customers, we have a wealth of things to choose from. We don’t want these stores to leave our city, as they did in San Francisco.

      We want to protect the Empire Center and make shopping safe for all.

    2. This article focused on crime statistics at the Empire Center, portraying a surge in criminal activity coinciding with the center’s retail success, warrants a careful examination of the facts and the context in which they are presented. It’s crucial to approach such reports with a balanced perspective, especially considering the broader implications for community perception and business climate.

      Firstly, it’s important to note the inherent challenge in drawing year-over-year comparisons between 2022 and 2023. The year 2022 was heavily influenced by COVID-19, affecting foot traffic in retail spaces due to health restrictions and general public caution. Consequently, lower mall attendance likely contributed to fewer opportunities for crime, making 2022 an atypical baseline. Now, as normalcy resumes and foot traffic increases, a rise in reported incidents might not necessarily indicate a worsening crime rate but a return to pre-pandemic activity levels.

      Moreover, the report focuses heavily on raw crime figures without contextualizing these numbers within the broader trend of increasing visitors and business transactions at the Empire Center. This focus can create an alarmist tone that may not accurately reflect the actual safety of the area. While any crime is concerning, it is also important to consider these statistics relative to the growing number of daily interactions within the center.

      Furthermore, the narrative framing—highlighting a stark rise in specific crimes—employs a classic scaremongering tactic. This approach can disproportionately amplify fear among the public, potentially overshadowing the positive developments within Burbank’s thriving commercial sector. While it’s vital to report on and address crime, it is equally important to avoid sensationalism that can skew public perception and deter community engagement.

      In light of these observations, readers should interpret the reported crime data with an understanding of these broader dynamics. True community safety comes from a well-informed public engaging constructively with local issues, not from reactive fear spurred by potentially misleading statistics.