California Retail Theft Reduction Act Would Target Those Stealing With Intent to Sell, Lawmakers Say

California Retail Theft Reduction Act Would Target Those Stealing With Intent to Sell, Lawmakers Say

A looter robs a Target store in Oakland, Calif., on May 30, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

2/17/2024

Updated: 2/20/2024

California lawmakers are looking to find solutions for retail theft crimes that are affecting the state and causing some businesses to flee, with a new bill introduced on Feb. 15 targeting organized criminal activity.
Assembly Bill 2943—co-authored by two assemblymen, Rick Chavez Zbur and Speaker Robert Rivas—would strengthen penalties for repeat offenders and for those profiting from such crimes.
The measure would create a new felony crime carrying a penalty of up to three years in prison for possessing stolen property with the intent to sell, according to the authors. Repeated conduct and possession of a quantity of goods that exceeds personal consumption would qualify as evidence of intent—with the provision applying to thieves and re-sellers of stolen items.
CVS items among nearly 14,000 products recovered from a retail theft ring investigation in Glendale, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol)

CVS items among nearly 14,000 products recovered from a retail theft ring investigation in Glendale, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol)

Lawmakers suggest such is necessary because of smash-and-grab robberies and persistent theft plaguing some areas—with the city of Los Angeles having experienced an 81 percent rise in shoplifting incidents in 2023 year over year, according to police department statistics.
“Retail crime is not only bad for business, but it also undermines safety and the perception of safety in our communities,” Mr. Zbur said during a Feb. 15 press conference announcing the legislation. “When retailers close their doors without equivalent replacements, those locations become dead zones, workers lose their jobs, areas become blighted, and entire neighborhoods suffer.”
He said Californians are increasingly concerned about the prevalence of theft in recent years.
“Retail crime is an emotional issue for many of our residents,” Mr. Zbur said. “Business owners fear for their livelihoods, workers fear for their well-being, and members of the public worry that it may no longer be safe to frequent their neighborhood stores.
“With the introduction of this bill, we are demonstrating that the California State Assembly has listened and that we are serious about addressing the problem of retail crime that is plaguing our communities. This package says to organized crime rings that we mean business, and we are giving law enforcement the tools needed to shut you down.”
In response to stakeholders, including law enforcement experts and retailers, who complained that the current threshold for felony charges—thefts of $950 or more—is hampering prosecutions and allowing theft with no consequences, the bill would allow for the aggregation of values for items stolen from multiple businesses and across jurisdictions.
A sign is posted in front of a Target store that is slated for closure in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A sign is posted in front of a Target store that is slated for closure in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Suggesting that some people are shoplifting to “survive,” Mr. Zbur said the measure also includes diversion options and programs to help get such individuals “back on their feet.”
Highlighting a focus on organized crime that’s targeting retailers, the speaker of the Assembly said laws need amending.
“Organized retail theft is a serious crime that is hurting businesses and impacting our communities across California,” Mr. Rivas said during the press conference. “Criminal enterprises are using new and different ways to get around current prohibitions, and that’s not acceptable to me, it’s not acceptable to the public, and ... it is our responsibility to ensure that our laws are addressing the situation at hand.”
One Republican lawmaker critical of the proposal suggested the measure fails to address concerns related to Proposition 47—passed by voters in 2014 to reduce prison populations by changing some felony drug and theft crimes to misdemeanors.
“It’s really important for folks reading this to understand that the focus on ‘organized’ crime does not help most small business owners in our communities,” Assemblyman Joe Patterson wrote in a post on X on Feb. 15. “We need to repeal Prop 47. Period.”
But Mr. Rivas pushed back on the idea that Proposition 47 is responsible for the recent spike in retail theft incidents.
“We know this is a problem, but we don’t want this to be a knee-jerk reaction where we blame Prop. 47,” Mr. Rivas said. “There’s a lot of strongly held views, and a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to retail theft and its connection to Prop. 47.”
California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas speaks on stage at the Los Angeles Equality Awards at The Westin Bonaventure Rooftop in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2023. (Rich Polk/Getty Images for Equality California)

California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas speaks on stage at the Los Angeles Equality Awards at The Westin Bonaventure Rooftop in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2023. (Rich Polk/Getty Images for Equality California)

Noting a desire to preserve recent changes to criminal codes that resulted in fewer arrests and less jail time for offenders, he said a balanced approach is needed to address the crime problem.
“We have made really important criminal justice reforms,” Mr. Rivas said. “We don’t want to turn back the clock.”
Also in attendance at the press conference, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, the new chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, acknowledged the difficult task ahead balancing reform efforts with stronger penalties.
“This is a top priority for the Legislature and the California State Assembly,” Mr. McCarty said. “The state, led by the Assembly and the Public Safety Committee, will respond accordingly, and we will not sweep this issue under the rug, and there will be a robust answer dealing with ... retail crime in California.”
California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on April 3, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on April 3, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Recognizing the nearly two dozen bills under consideration by the Legislature pertaining to retail theft, he said that all options are still open.
“We’re not picking and choosing what ideas are going forward, just yet,” Mr. McCarty said. “Everything is still on the table.”
Agreeing with critics who say organized crime is only part of the problem, he said the safety committee is also looking at policies to target repeat offenders not linked to organized activities.
“We have this issue for big box retailers on the organized side, and we also have small neighborhood grocers and convenience stores ... that may not be [affected by] an organized element,” Mr. McCarty said. “We will make sure that we respond accordingly ... and will put forward a robust package in the coming weeks.”
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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