SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Members of a well-known San Francisco shoplifting ring are under arrest, charged in what prosecutors are calling an "unprecedented investigation."
Union Square is considered a target rich environment for organized thieves because of all the high-end stores, so San Francisco's District Attorney George Gascon is sending a message.
"If you're intending to commit a crime in the Union Square area - don't!" he said.
The D.A, police and the Union Square business community have formed a unique partnership that's led to charges against 16 people who bum-rush stores and steal merchandise. The so-called "Rainbow Crew" has operated not just in San Francisco, but nationwide.
"They've travelled and travelled exclusively to commit crimes and to victimize people in other jurisdictions," said Frank Carrubba with the D.A.'s office.
And recently, they became more brazen, using pepper spray, even knives. Police say it's not ordinary shoplifting
"It can be violent, scary for the employees and the loss is tremendous," said Valeria Matthews, with the SFPD.
Key to cracking the cases has been more than 300 surveillance cameras the business district has installed.
"You can see facial features and license plates from a distance," explained Wes Tyler with the Business Improvement District.
Authorities say in addition to the 16 defendants in San Francisco, there are ten in other jurisdictions around the country with thefts totaling nearly half a million dollars.