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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

California Lawmakers Create Shoplifting Crime Wave

     Legislators, state and federal, are famous for writing laws affecting subjects they know nothing about. That's why so many laws produce what they call unintended consequences. This is particularly true regarding laws pertaining to crime, criminals, and criminal justice.

     In 2014, legislators in California passed the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, a misleading title given to a statute that in fact had nothing to do with reducing crime. Politicians passed the law to keep non-violent criminals out of prison. These boneheaded legislators apparently didn't know that a lot of non-violent crimes are serious enough to destroy the quality of life in a community. In this context, non-violent does not necessarily mean petty.

     Prior to the 2014 legislation, the theft of property worth more than $450 constituted a felony that carried a prison sentence. If, for example, a shoplifter stole ten items from a store that added up to more than $450 in merchandise value, that crime was a felony even though each individual item fell below the misdemeanor-felony cutoff.

     Pursuant to California's new law, for an act of shoplifting to qualify as a felony, the stolen merchandise had to exceed $950, and, that sum could not represent the total value of the things stolen. In other words, if out of thirty stolen items, not one piece of merchandise was worth more than $950, the theft was still a misdemeanor even though the total loss to the store amounted to, say, $2,700.

     Statewide in California, after the passage of the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, the rate of shoplifting crime went through the roof. And why wouldn't it? If a shoplifter, or a gang of shoplifters got caught, they'd pay a fine and go free. And quite often the fine was far less than the value of the items stolen. In California and other states with similar laws, shoplifting simply became, particularly for organized retail theft gangs, a profitable business. However, owning a store was no longer a profitable enterprise. And who was to blame for that, the geniuses in the California state legislature.

Grab and Dash Shoplifting Gangs

     The decriminalization of retail theft has led to a new crime wave of what could be termed "organized retail looting." The crime wave has hit cities like Vacaville, California. Vacaville, a suburban community in Solano County in the northern part of the state 35 miles west of Sacramento, is vulnerable to gangs of hooded criminals who enter stores, overwhelm the staff, and make off with armloads of stolen merchandise. These so-called grab and dash rings target stores in shopping centers located near major freeways. One minute they are in the store looting the place, and the next minute they are gone, lost in freeway traffic. These criminals do not have to worry about being pursued by police cars because departmental policy prohibits high-speed freeway chases.

     Since the 2014 passage of California's criminal-friendly legislation, annual store shoplifting losses have doubled in the state. Over the past twelve months, in the city of Vacaville alone, mobs have committed 746 shoplifting raids. More than half of the grab and dash suspects avoided arrest, and only a handful of the ones that were caught will end up in prison.

     The California legislature, in effect, created a new category of organized crime that will turn suburban shopping centers into ghosts plazas. Besides California's criminals, the big winners are business-friendly states like Texas where an ex-California retailer can still make a living.

1 comment:

  1. In Texas the threshold for felony shoplifting is $1500, not $950 like California. (Loss prevention magazine)

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