MANTECA -- Police are looking for three thieves who have smashed and burglarized glass jewelry cases 14 times in the past year at Kohl's department stores in Riverbank, Turlock, Man- teca, Livermore, Stockton and Natomas.
The burglaries have occurred since November 2006, and all have taken place overnight when the stores were closed, said Rex Osborn, a Manteca police spokesman.
In that time period, the west Manteca store in the Stadium Center shopping plaza just north of Highway 120 has been burglarized four times. Osborn said most of the burglaries, including the most recent at the Manteca store, occurred in late December just before Christmas.
Kohl's has more than 800 department stores in 41 states throughout the country, according to its Web site.
Osborn said investigators don't know why the thieves chose to target Kohl's stores, but he speculated that the thieves have identified the ins and outs of the stores and grown more comfortable with each burglary.
"They know how the Kohl's stores are laid out, so they know how to get in and out really fast," Osborn said of the thieves. "And most of the stores are the same."
Investigators would not reveal how the thieves are getting into the buildings, but they did say the three men immediately run to the jewelry counters. Osborn said one thief smashes the glass cases with a sledgehammer, while the other two grab all the jewelry and watches.
The thieves have worn dark masks in each of the burglaries, possibly knowing they will be caught on store surveillance video, Osborn said. Investigators do not have a description of a get-away vehicle or further description of the thieves.
He said the thieves are in and out of the stores in about a minute and 30 seconds.
"These are people who have obviously practiced this," Osborn said about the 14 Kohl's burglaries. "And this is probably the reason why they're going to get caught."
In conjunction with Manteca- area South County Crime Stoppers, Kohl's officials are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the thieves.
Manteca police are asking anyone with information about the Kohl's burglaries to call South County Crime Stoppers at 823-4636.
Callers can remain anonymous.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.