California Lawmakers Try to Tell Retailers How Best to Address Theft

California Lawmakers Try to Tell Retailers How Best to Address Theft

A self-checkout station at a Safeway grocery store in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on May 22, 2024. (Keegan Billings/The Epoch Times)

James Breslo

James Breslo

5/24/2024

Updated: 5/29/2024

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Commentary
It seems there is no element of private enterprise California politicians are not comfortable attempting to dictate how it should be run. Whether it be how much to pay workers, what to charge for a product, what fees are permitted, or the racial and gender makeup of a board of directors.
Now, they want to tell retailers how to operate self-service checkout terminals, supposedly as a means of addressing retail theft. Under a new state Senate bill, such terminals will have to be manned by an employee, defeating the whole purpose of the terminals.
State Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas introduced the measure, explaining, “We know that what makes our community safe is not more jail time and penalties.”
While this bill also aims to “protect good jobs,” according to the press release, it is part of an effort to address the explosion of retail theft in California, which the state’s own policies have caused. Retail stores in big cities are closing in record numbers due to the explosion of shoplifting and smash-and-grabs. L.A. gangs have turned from selling drugs to organized theft of homes and stores. The homeless who wander our sidewalks, parks, and beaches also engage in shoplifting and petty theft.
The increases have all happened since the state began implementing progressive criminal justice reform, much of it under the direction of George Soros-backed district attorneys like San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles’s George Gascón. Mr. Gascón masterminded Proposition 47, which converted a host of crimes from felony to misdemeanor in California. Steal $950 or less, and you face only misdemeanor charges. We are feeling the effects of this change.
Mr. Gascón also implemented an end to cash bail and stopped prosecuting first-time offenders for various “nonviolent” crimes. He ordered a review of past convictions for re-sentencing or early release. He stopped trying some juveniles as adults. All of this, combined with releasing prisoners early due to the pandemic and prison overcrowding, has resulted in a more than 25 percent reduction in the state’s prison population since 2019. Thus, there are more criminals on the streets than ever, and they have little fear of being arrested since they know they will immediately be released.
Rather than acknowledge that these policies have been a disaster, 19 Democrat and two Republican lawmakers recently proposed a new 29-bill package to address crime prevention and rehabilitation for offenders, with Ms. Smallwood-Cuevas among them.
A similar rise in shoplifting in other parts of the nation has resulted in plenty of interactions between retail employees and shoplifters. We see it firsthand on the news and social media thanks to in-store cameras. The videos show how some employees stand by and watch, while others intervene to try to stop the theft. More and more, it is the former over the latter.
One such occurrence at a Lululemon store in Atlanta became big news last year. Two employees tried to stop thieves at their store. Rather than being treated as heroes, they were fired for violating a company policy against employees intervening in shoplifting. The company’s CEO, Calvin McDonald, defended the termination, emphasizing that the employees knowingly broke the company’s policy by engaging with the thieves. It is rather odd behavior for a CEO to defend firing employees for violating a company policy when all they were trying to do was protect the company and stop a crime. Perhaps a reprimand was warranted, but termination? It appears that Mr. McDonald, like so many public company CEOs these days, has an agenda other than making a profit for shareholders.
California’s state Senate Democrats seemed to concur with the Lululemon policy, and passed Senate Bill 553 soon after the incident, seeking to make it a law that employees cannot be required to stop retail theft.
The bill received significant backlash from retailers. Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, said the bill “will open the doors even wider for people to come in and steal from our stores.” The bill was subsequently modified and became law, now mandating that all California employers develop a “workplace violence prevention plan” or face civil penalties. The mandate is the first of its kind in the country.
Now state lawmakers are at it again, seeking to tell retailers how best to address theft. Senate Bill 1446 would require grocery stores and drugstores that have self-checkout stations to assign employees to watch over them. The employees may not have any other tasks and must not be responsible for more than two stations. Further, customers may only use the stations if they have 15 or fewer items.
Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas explains, “What makes our community safe is real enforcement, having real workers that are on the floor.” So, she wants workers on the floor, she just doesn’t want them to do anything.
This silly bill clearly would do nothing to address the theft problem. Shoplifters and smash and grabbers do not stand in a checkout line. They come in, usually in large numbers, grab items off the shelf, and run out.
What the bill really seems designed to do is stop retailers from relying on new technology to reduce labor costs. California recently enacted a $20 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers. Naturally these stores will look to reduce costs by installing more self-service kiosks to replace cashiers. Other retailers in the state face minimum wages of $16 per hour but are now under pressure to increase wages to compete with fast food retailers. They also have turned to self-service terminals to reduce worker costs. This bill seems designed to prevent that. It is supported by the state’s labor unions, not known for being concerned about retail theft.
Once again, the left creates a problem through bad policy, then seeks to solve the problem through government intervention. It never works, in turn requiring more government intervention.
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James Breslo

James Breslo

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James Breslo is an attorney and host of the “Hidden Truth Show” podcast. He is a former partner at the international law firm Seyfarth Shaw and public company president. He has appeared numerous times as a legal expert on Fox News and CNN, and serves on the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025 Public Diplomacy committee.

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