FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE/KSEE): In late November, the California Highway Patrol along with other law enforcement agencies started “Operation Christmas Presence”. The aim was to increase their patrol near malls and shopping centers – and to decrease the number of thefts and break-ins.

Since the operation started on November 28, 63 people have been arrested and over 370 stolen items recovered throughout the Central Valley.

The CHP’s Central Division covers nine counties from Kern County to Stanislaus County. 

Since November 28th, they’ve seen a huge increase in thefts and arrests, including just 20 since Saturday.

“Focus on organized retail teams that are going down the [highway] 99 corridor that are doing theft in multiple jurisdictions. That will be our focus,” said Capt. David Ukle with CHP’s Central Division.

On November 22, Ukle laid out the division’s promise during “Operation Christmas Presence” to crackdown on retail theft. Since that announcement, the CHP has tweeted out two instances where they were successful in stopping retail theft and returning merchandise to stores.

On December 1st, a man reportedly stole $500,000 worth of goods from Best Buy. On Saturday, two people were arrested for going to several different stores along Highway 99, and leaving with unpaid clothing.

These are just three of the more than 63 arrests CHP has made during “Operation Christmas Presence” in just the CHP’s Central Division.

“We’ve recovered over 370 stolen assets, with a value of over $795,000,” said Sgt. Robert Montano. Montano says there tends to be an uptick in theft around the holiday season.

“Retailers, they are just expecting more shoppers. Everybody is shorthanded, everybody is trying to work as hard as they can out there to prevent these things from happening, but yes we’re definitely seeing an increase this time of year.”

CHP works with local agencies and witnesses to gather as much information as possible so they can make a stop on the highway if the thieves go onto it. Montano adds that most of the arrests they make are outside of the cities those people live in.

“Oftentimes we make arrests, and we find people aren’t from the Fresno area or the Merced area. That’s when we’re determining this isn’t just a local issue, but people are going all across the Central Valley to commit these crimes,” he said.

These efforts to stop retail theft don’t stop after the holidays. They work with police and even state government partners to follow as many leads as they can and recover as much merchandise as they can.