Police officers and crime scene tape are seen at Youtube headquarters following an active shooter situation in San Bruno, California, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
With property theft crimes impacting communities across California, a growing number of critics, including one supervisor who originally supported the measure, are questioning if Proposition 47 (pdf
)—passed by voters in 2014 with the intention of reducing prison populations—is contributing to criminal activity.
“It’s broken. I initially supported the law, as I was sold on the fact it would keep drug addicts and those with mental health issues out of our prisons,” David Canepa, San Mateo County supervisor, a Democrat, told The Epoch Times by email Aug. 31. “But what we’ve seen is an incredible uptick in shoplifting and crimes against property that are generally charged as misdemeanors.”
Prop 47 reclassified certain felonies as misdemeanors, including several related to drug possession, shoplifting, petty theft, and receiving stolen property. Felony limits were raised from $450 to $950, with crimes involving lesser amounts categorized as misdemeanors carrying maximum punishments of six months in a county jail.
The law also eliminated the offense of petty theft with a prior, which previously allowed prosecutors to escalate charges to felonies for repeat offenders.
A lack of consequences is fueling the widespread looting and property theft crimes occurring in the state, Mr. Canepa said.
“The $950 threshold for a felony charge under Prop. 47 must be reexamined by state lawmakers if we really want to combat this epidemic in California,” he said. “Organized crime mobs have taken advantage of Prop. 47 because they know that if they do get arrested, they can simply walk out of jail the next day and only face misdemeanor charges. This has led to a proliferation of flash mobs raiding retailers and creating fear amongst shoppers.”
Police tape blocks off the crime scene in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 28, 2022. (Andri Tambunan/AFP via Getty Images)
Videos circulating on social media show luxury retailers in San Francisco and Los Angeles targeted by large groups of shoplifters
hauling items out and fleeing in waiting getaway cars, with businesses reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.
Thieves hit Nordstrom at the Westfield Mall in Topanga Canyon in August, and the retailer closed its location in iconic Union Square in San Francisco earlier this year reportedly due to rising crime.
Once bustling with tourists visiting high-end shopping destinations, empty storefronts and hundreds of for-lease signs now make up the downtown area, and office vacancy rates are at historic highs.
Car break-ins occur regularly—with nearly 23,000 in 2022, according to city statistics—and property theft crime in San Francisco is more than twice what it was in 2014 when Prop 47 passed, according to the city’s crime data
Open-air drug use and a prevalence of fentanyl-related overdose deaths create public safety issues, according to residents, with some pointing to Prop 47 as exacerbating addiction problems in the state by allowing drug users and dealers to operate without fear of consequences.
A looter robs a Target store in Oakland, Calif., on May 30, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)
Drug arrests plummeted with the change of law, falling from more than 137,000 in 2014 to fewer than 21,000 in 2022, according to California Department of Justice statistics
Supporters of Prop 47 point to the lower number of arrests as evidence that the law is succeeding, and comparisons to crime peaks from the early 1990s—when per capita arrests were much higher than today—are used to also justify its effectiveness.
Opponents argue that Californians and businesses are suffering from Prop 47 and what they say are other policy failures that are creating public safety problems.
Noting that the Legislature is more focused on criminal justice reform and reducing sentencing guidelines, the San Mateo County supervisor said he believes citizens will have to demand change and use their authority to create law with a ballot measure.
“The power is in [voters’] hands. Continued pressure is needed if we want to see real change,” Mr. Canepa said. “If the state Legislature won’t do it, then the voters have the power to put a measure on a statewide ballot to amend Prop. 47 to hold these crime syndicates accountable.”