Walmart, Target push for new shoplifting crackdown in California

The retailers and two mayors are proposing a proposed ballot measure to undo Proposition 47.

Photo by RMG News

Two of the nation’s largest retailers and a pair of Democratic mayors are supporting a campaign to roll back California’s landmark criminal justice reform, which has been blamed for a spike in retail theft.

Walmart and Target are the top funders of a proposed ballot measure that aims to undo Proposition 47, a voter-approved law from 2014 that reduced penalties for many lower-level drug and property crimes in the state.

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The latest initiative would give prosecutors more power to charge accused thieves as felons and force drug users into treatment with the threat of jail time, said Greg Totten, head of the California District Attorneys Association, which is spearheading the effort.

Also see: ‘Smash-and-grab’ robberies fuel new laws, but critics question the need

The campaign has gained the support of San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, who represent two of the most liberal cities in the US. Their backing reflects a growing frustration felt by the public and city leaders with the consequences of Proposition 47, which some say has emboldened criminals.

Critics point to a recent wave of smash-and-grab robberies at department stores and the prevalence of open-air drug use on city streets as evidence of the law’s shortcomings. In September, Target closed three California locations as well as six stores in other states, citing crime.

Proposition 47 was a “well-intentioned initiative” that has had “significant unintended consequences,” Mahan said at a press conference this week. “A small number of people brazenly commit crimes without fear of accountability. People are so trapped in addiction that they refuse services and subsist in misery on our streets.”

Other large backers of the campaign include a prison-guard union, Macy’s Inc., and businessman and political donor William Oberndorf, who was a major contributor to a 2022 recall effort that ousted San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin.

The mayors’ stance puts them at odds with other Democratic leaders in the state, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Supporters of Proposition 47, who include civil rights groups, public defenders and some law enforcement officials, credit the decade-old law for slashing incarceration rates, reducing racial disparities in arrests and cutting prison costs. The measure has also funneled funds to effective crime prevention programs, they say.

Retail theft

US retailers say they have suffered an increase in inventory losses, known as shrink, due in part to organized retail crime, which targets both high-end goods and everyday items like toothpaste and baby formula.

Also see: Retail group pulls back on claim organized retail crime accounts for nearly half of inventory loss

According to a study last year by the National Retail Federation, a trade group that includes Walmart and Target, shrink rose to 1.6% of sales in 2022, up from 1.4% the previous year, but in line with the two years before that. That worked out to about $112 billion in lost merchandise, and theft — both external and internal — accounted for almost two-thirds of the total. Shrink also includes losses from damage and administrative error.

Los Angeles and San Francisco topped the list of US metro areas most affected by organized retail crime, followed by Houston and New York, the trade group said. Sacramento, California, also ranked in the top 10.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Finally Waking Up? Mayor London Breed joins GOP-led effort to overhaul Prop. 47

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is joining a Republican-led campaign to roll back parts of a law that aimed to reduce jail populations but that critics say has emboldened thieves. 

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Breed on Thursday threw her support behind the proposal to increase jail time for dealing large quantities of fentanyl, make it easier to charge drug dealers with murder, and increase jail time for repeat thefts and organized retail theft. San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan also announced his support for the measure Thursday morning.

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They’re among a wave of Democrats this year who are backing efforts to overhaul or reform Proposition 47, a 2014 law approved by voters that reduced punishments for drug possession and theft of property worth less than $950.

Breed said she initially supported Prop. 47. But she said she’s seeing some of the unintended consequences of the measure as she tries to crack down on illegal drugs and thefts in San Francisco. 

“Our goal is not to keep people locked up,” she said. “But when there are no real consequences for crimes that are committed in this city, that’s a real problem.”

Breed, who is campaigning for reelection, is under pressure to combat what many residents view as a scourge of crime in San Francisco, even though data shows some of the characterizations of lawlessness in the city are exaggerated.

Supporters of the proposal she’s backing are collecting signatures to place it on the ballot in November. They must collect more than half a million signatures by April 23. The campaign’s top donors are Walmart, Target, Macy’s and a powerful California prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

California Republicans have long been the harshest critics of the law and have repeatedly tried to overturn it. They argue it has emboldened people to steal without fear of consequences. The initiative’s chief proponent and campaign chair are both Republicans. Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin (Placer County), who introduced an unsuccessful measure as a state lawmaker to roll back Prop. 47, hosted an event last week encouraging supporters to sign the petition to put the measure on the ballot. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and Assembly Member Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, have also announced their support. State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, has contributed $15,000 to the effort, according to campaign finance filings.

Supporters of Prop. 47, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, argued that reducing jail time for lower-level offenses would be good for communities and save the state money that could be used for education and other government programs aimed at keeping people from committing crimes in the first place.

Newsom reaffirmed his support for the measure last month when asked about efforts to revamp the law. He pointed out that the $950 threshold for felony theft in the law is actually one of the lowest in the country. Texas, for example, has a minimum felony theft threshold of $2,500.

“Everyone is rushing to reform Prop. 47 to raise the threshold,” he told reporters at a news conference last month. “That’s not the fundamental issue.”

Instead of reforming Prop. 47, Newsom said the state needs to do more to crack down on organized retail theft, which he said has become a major problem.

Newsom is also taking a more tough-on-crime approach to governing, recently sending more state police officers to crack down on theft and violence in Oakland and drug dealing in San Francisco. Last month, he called for lawmakers to send him legislation to increase punishments for people who steal, including by making it easier for police to arrest suspects even if they did not witness them stealing and imposing harsher penalties for car thieves and people who resell stolen goods. He’s also calling for changes to the law that would make it easier for prosecutors to show a person met the $950 threshold for stolen goods.

Though most Democrats have backed Prop. 47, there has been some support for overhauling the proposition among the party’s moderates for years. But the endorsement of the ballot measure by Mahan and Breed indicates distaste for the law is growing among Democrats. They join San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, a fellow Democrat who said the law needs to be changed during his State of the City address earlier this month.

“That law may have made sense at the time,” he said. “However, since it was implemented, we’ve seen criminals exploit these reforms.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Californians eager to junk soft-on-crime law pushed by Kamala Harris

An overwhelming percentage of Californians, sick of surging robberies and “smash-and-grab” thefts at stores from Target to Nordstrom, are rallying to shelve a law once pushed by Vice President Kamala Harris that is blamed for the rise in crime.

In a new survey shared with Secrets, 70% of California voters back an initiative to amend Proposition 47, which passed when Harris was state attorney general and recategorized low-level theft and crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

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Instead, the Homeless, Drug Addiction, Retail Theft Reduction Act would increase penalties on criminals and also boost support for addicts and the homeless.

Crime “is as bad as I’ve seen it during my career,” former Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten said.

“I can tell you, as a prosecutor, we weren’t seeing this kind of rampant theft prior to passage of Prop 47, and when people figure out there’s no consequences, of course, it escalates,” added Totten, chairman of the campaign to get the initiative on the November ballot. He is also CEO of the California District Attorneys Association.

The goal of Proposition 47 was to cut the prison population and increase treatments for convicts. Harris was involved in giving the proposition a nice-sounding title, “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”

In changing the penalties for small crimes, there has been a surge in petty crime, especially store thefts, and drug use, which has led to higher homelessness, Totten said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) saw that firsthand recently. He said at a press conference this week that he watched as a shoplifter walked out of a Target with unpaid items. He asked a store clerk why somebody wasn’t called to stop the shoplifter.

The clerk, who apparently didn’t recognize Newsom, blamed the “governor” for reclassifying thefts under $950 as misdemeanors.

He denied that but said, “Why am I spending $380, and everyone can walk the hell right out?”

Lots of Californians are asking themselves the same thing.

In the Axis Research survey shared with Secrets, even those who voted for Proposition 47 want changes. “When asked if there should be changes to Prop 47 to allow for stronger penalties for those engaged in the trafficking of hard drugs or for repeat offenders of retail theft, voters support changes at a margin of 8-to-1. This includes 83% of those who voted ‘yes’ on Prop 47 who now support changes to the law,” the survey analysis said.

Totten said his group has already collected over 300,000 signatures of the 550,000 needed to get the initiative on the ballot. He said they are coming in at 40,000 a week.

Click here to read the full article in the Washington Examiner