California Lawmakers Say Reducing Penalties Only Worsens Organized Retail Crime

California Lawmakers Say Reducing Penalties Only Worsens Organized Retail Crime

Products are displayed in locked security cabinets at a Walgreens store that is set to be closed in the coming weeks in San Francisco on Oct. 13, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Austin Alonzo
Austin Alonzo

7/9/2024

Updated: 7/9/2024

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Two California lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree that the state’s Proposition 47 is hurting more than it is helping. The measure was designed to reduce the state’s prison population and divert resources used on incarceration toward schools and social programs.
On July 9, Reps. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) appeared in an online event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the problem of rising organized retail theft in the country. They both said California’s Proposition 47 is creating more problems in the Golden State than it is solving.
Proposition 47, approved by California voters in 2014, “maximizes alternatives for non-serious, nonviolent crime” by reducing the charges and penalties associated with certain, nonviolent crimes.
In particular, Mr. Garcia noted that Proposition 47 reduced to a misdemeanor the charges for stealing less than $950 worth of merchandise. Criminals know the law, he said. So individual and organized shoplifters are taking advantage of the state’s leniency and certain district attorneys’ lack of willingness to prosecute low-level crimes.
Mr. Garcia said small businesses are “slowly bleeding by 1,000 paper cuts.”
The U.S. Chamber, a Washington-based national organization lobbying on behalf of businesses, prioritizes combating organized retail theft.
According to data collected by the organization and published in 2022, organized retail crime costs stores more than $700,000 per $1 billion in sales. Separately, small businesses are raising prices due to increased shoplifting, and some retailers are closing stores in response to theft.
The chamber says that “crime rings are operating with impunity across the country.” Criminals are profiting by reselling stolen goods online or on the street.
Mr. Panetta, a former deputy district attorney in California’s Monterey County, said Proposition 47 allows criminals to commit the same crimes repeatedly “without suffering consequences.” The law was passed with good motives, he said, but it has had detrimental effects on the state in the decade since its passage.
Elevated crime, even if it is not violent, is causing Californians to feel less safe, Mr. Panetta said. The growing perception of lawlessness in California’s biggest cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, is contributing to recall elections and electoral challenges for local politicians in those areas.
Mr. Garcia, who represents the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, said California’s businesses, law enforcement, and politicians are so fed up with Proposition 47 that they are rolling out a ballot measure to repeal portions of it.
In April, the bipartisan group Californians for Safer Communities submitted more than 900,000 signatures to get its proposal on the state’s November ballot. As proposed, the new law would charge shoplifters with a felony if they have two prior theft convictions within a three-year span.
On the evening of June 30, Democrat leaders in Sacramento, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, announced their own version of a Proposition 47 reform plan that proposed lesser penalties for theft than the Safer Communities proposal. However, the governor withdrew the measure on July 2 citing an inability to meet the ballot deadline.
Nationally, Mr. Panetta, who represents a Pacific Coast district south of San Franciso Bay, said he, Rep. Young Kim (D-Calif.), and others are proposing a bill—the Improving Federal Investigations of Organized Retail Crime Act—that would enable federal agencies to coordinate with state and local officials to build the evidence needed to bring organized retail crime networks to justice.
Suspects from a flash mob robbery at a shopping center in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2023. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Police Department)

Suspects from a flash mob robbery at a shopping center in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2023. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Police Department)

Moreover, he spoke about the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers, or INFORM, Act of 2022. The INFORM Act requires online retailers to collect, verify, and disclose information about “high-volume third-party sellers” in an effort to stop the sale of stolen or counterfeit merchandise. The same law requires retailers to allow consumers to report suspicious activity.
Nevertheless, Mr. Panetta said that criminals are selling stolen merchandise on sidewalks and other online forums to circumvent the INFORM Act.
Mr. Garcia said lawmakers must continue to push for ways to use federal powers to stop organized retail theft around the country. He mentioned the proposed Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023, which would establish a federal center aimed exclusively at tackling the problem. Moreover, he said, Congress needs to direct more money to local law enforcement that deals with the brunt of the issue.
Along with legislative actions, Mr. Garcia called on his fellow California lawmakers to speak up about the problems in their state created in part by Proposition 47. This, he said, will help ensure that an equally well-intentioned yet ill-designed law doesn’t pass in Washington.
“Every bad policy that California has has an ugly twin sister bill in Washington,” Mr. Garcia said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
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Austin Alonzo covers U.S. political and national news for The Epoch Times. He has covered local, business and agricultural news in Kansas City, Missouri, since 2012. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri. You can reach Austin via email at austin.alonzo@epochtimes.us

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