California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in Los Angeles on Jan. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
California plans to crack down on property crime this year by creating new laws, expanding penalties for professional thieves, and taking other action to address the state’s rising retail crime and auto burglaries.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom released a framework for state lawmakers on Jan. 9 that outlines his plan to fight property crime in this year’s legislative session.
“These laws will make California safer and bolster police and prosecutor tools to arrest and hold professional criminals accountable,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement on Jan. 9.
The governor’s proposals include creating new penalties—and increasing felony penalties and prison time—to target “professional thieves” who steal from retailers and resell stolen property. He also called for strengthening the state’s laws to increase penalties for large-scale resellers of stolen goods.
The plan also calls for changing existing laws to ensure that law enforcement can arrest suspects accused of retail theft, even if officers didn’t witness a crime in progress.
Mr. Newsom also said he wanted lawmakers to clarify that the penal code allows law enforcement to combine the value of multiple thefts—even involving different victims—to reach the threshold for grand theft, which currently is any theft of property, real estate, money, or labor valued at more than $950.
To fight auto burglaries, Mr. Newsom said he wants to create new penalties for the possession of stolen items from a vehicle with intent to resell, regardless of whether the vehicle was locked. Under current California law, if defendants can prove that the vehicle was unlocked and there was no forced entry, a burglary charge may be dismissed, but petty theft or grand theft auto can still be applied.
The governor also indicated that he wants to eliminate the expiration date of the state’s organized retail crime statute, which currently has a sunset date of Jan. 1, 2026. The statute makes it a crime if someone acts with one or more people to steal or possess merchandise.
Suspects from a flash mob robbery at a shopping center in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2023. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Police Department)
Mr. Newsom’s crime framework garnered praise from law enforcement and other state officials, according to the governor’s announcement, including Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
“This framework will close loopholes criminals have exploited and increase felony penalties for smash and grabs, retail theft, and auto burglaries,” Mr. Boudreaux said in the statement.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the state’s Department of Justice is committed to tackling crime.
“Organized retail theft is a serious crime that not only costs businesses, retailers, and consumers, but puts workers and the public at risk,” Mr. Bonta said in the statement.
According to a report released in December 2023, the California Highway Patrol made more than 1,000 arrests for organized retail theft in 2023—more than double such arrests in 2022.
The agency also recovered about 188,000 stolen items—topping the 2022 number by more than 38,600 items.
California reported nearly 100,000 vehicle thefts in the first half of 2023, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a national organization that investigates insurance fraud and vehicle theft crimes.
Although the state had the most stolen vehicles in the nation during that time, the number represented a 2 percent drop from the year before.
The state’s Department of Justice reported a 5.3 percent increase in property crime in 2022, the latest year reported by the department. Arrests for motor vehicle theft decreased in 2022 by 8.5 percent, while those for burglary and theft increased by 9.4 percent, according to the department.
In another study by the Public Policy Institute of California, shoplifting remained at 8 percent below pre-pandemic levels in 2022, although commercial burglaries and robberies increased by 16 percent and by 13 percent, respectively, that year, the institute’s policy director, Magnus Lofstrom, testified at a hearing of the California General Assembly Select Committee on Retail Theft on Dec. 19.
The Bay Area had the highest reported rates of shoplifting and the biggest increases recently, the institute reported. Of the 15 most populous counties, San Mateo had the highest rate of shoplifting in the region in 2022, followed by San Francisco.
Commercial burglary has increased across the state, the institute reported. Reports of the crime became more common than shoplifting, rising in all of the Bay Area’s counties, according to the institute.
Commercial burglaries rose by 29 percent in Los Angeles and by 54 percent in Orange County.
“Overall, crime data indicate that retailers have increasingly been the target of crime in parts of California,” Mr. Lofstrom testified.