Apr 10, 2024 - News

California looks to target serial retail theft with new legislation

Photo of a lock chain wrapped around a freezer section in a grocery store

A freezer is locked up at a Walgreens store in San Francisco last year. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

California legislators are partnering with the state Department of Justice on a new legislative package that seeks to crack down on retail theft.

Why it matters: San Francisco and Oakland together ranked second on the list of areas most affected by organized retail crime, according to a 2022 survey from the National Retail Federation.

State of play: The bipartisan package, announced Monday, aims to enact stiffer penalties and establish a new crime to target "serial" theft.

  • The bills would enable aggregation of thefts from different victims to charge grand theft in serial cases within 60 days, allow extended jail time for property crimes valued at over $50,000 (down from the current $100,000 threshold) and create a restraining order for theft, vandalism or battery on an employee within a store.
  • They would also restore the ability to join theft charges from multiple counties into a single case in a single court and expand the use of diversion and rehabilitative programs.

What they're saying: Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) said at the press conference Monday the bills provide new enforcement tools to keep stores, customers and workers safe "while also ensuring there are sensible guardrails" to prevent exacerbation of poverty.

  • Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) did acknowledge concerns about how the bills would impact criminal justice reforms but emphasized that they're not "turning back the clock" on the measures already enacted.

The big picture: Concern about crime has renewed scrutiny of Proposition 47, which California voters approved in 2014 to lower many drug possession and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

  • That can mean little to no jail time and may have led to less aggressive efforts to arrest low-level shoplifters, per a KQED investigation published in February.

Yes, but: Data suggests San Francisco has already seen some improvement — a November analysis by the Council on Criminal Justice found it saw the largest decrease in reported shoplifting incidents among large U.S. cities when comparing the first half of 2022 to the same time period in 2023.

  • The city also reported a 48% decrease in larceny theft, which includes retail thefts and auto break-ins, during the holiday season from 2022 to 2023.
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