As public pressure mounts, state lawmakers crack down on shoplifting surge – Daily News

Bodyguard Junior Gonzalez keeps an eye on Linda’s Jewelry on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, where he works, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. With retail theft on the rise, some smaller stores are hiring their own security. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Fighting retail crime is top of mind for many state lawmakers, as evidenced by a flurry of new bills targeting shoplifting, break-ins and retail theft.

Why the intense focus this legislative cycle? California policymakers are facing new and growing pressure to address rising retail crime rates.

Shoplifting jumped 81% Last year in the city of Los Angeles – from about 6,600 reports in 2022 to nearly 12,000 in 2023.

Statewide, reports of shoplifting increased nearly 30% between 2019 and 2022, and commercial burglary rates increased in 14 of the state’s 15 most populous counties.

“The Legislature is responding to the concerns of both the business community and the electorate; Their citizens complain quite a lot because they’ve seen retail theft happen in person or in the news,” said veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Mitchell. “We know this is a pervasive problem, and it’s not getting better.”

Sarah Santhialani, co-owner of Raphaella, says Tuesday, April 16, 2024, that she wants to hire a security guard to cover more hours at the clothing store she opened with her mother on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. With retail theft on the rise, some smaller stores are hiring their own security. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

In LA’s fashion district, entrepreneur Sarhra Santhialani says she wants to hire a security guard for her newly opened store. While this would be a significant expense for a small business, he believes it is necessary to protect himself, protect his products, and stay open safely after sunset.

A few doors down, Mike Shiraz says he won’t open a jewelry store unless he has personal security.

“It’s getting worse every day,” he said. “We hear a lot of stories about people being robbed and just a few days ago we saw an explosion.

Jeweler Mike Shirazi at Globe Jewelry on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles says if he’s open, he has a security guard. With retail theft on the rise, some smaller stores are hiring their own security. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The increase in theft has forced stores to lock their goods behind glass and, in extreme cases, to close.

“In parts of my district, we run the risk of big retailers starting to pull out, and when that happens, it affects the entire neighborhood — it affects workers who lose their jobs and it affects small businesses that rely on large retailers for foot traffic.” said Assemblyman Rick Chavez Zbur, D-Los Angeles. “That’s why I went to (Assembly) Speaker Riva and informed him that I was interested in working with him. Developing a strategy to combat retail theft.”

As public pressure for legislative action intensified, signatures were recently submitted for a statewide ballot measure that would repeal key parts of Section 47 and reinstate tougher penalties for shoplifting and drug possession.

Prop. 47 voters passed in 2014, making it a misdemeanor to steal goods worth $950 or less. The goal was to reduce incarceration and transfer offenders to rehabilitation programs. But since then, many people have paid the bill and believe it to be true Blame it on the rise in retail crime.

While many Republican lawmakers have long called for the measure to be repealed, many Democratic lawmakers would prefer to create new ways to combat theft under Prop. 47 without wholesale repeal.

“People basically say that all this happened because of Prop. 47 and their attention is focused on prop. 47 rather than actually thinking about what we actually need to do to stop the problem,” Zbur said. “It never occurred to me that this issue was Prop 47. I think what the data shows is that we have obstacles for law enforcement to do their jobs.”

A private security guard watches a customer on Diamond Dr. at 16 Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. With retail theft on the rise, some smaller stores are hiring their own security. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The willingness of lawmakers to develop their own solutions, as opposed to having them voted on, is also driving the high number of bills this cycle, Michel said.

Successful passage of these bills could force ballot measure organizers to abandon the initiative, or convince voters that passing the measure isn’t necessary, he added.

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas and Zbur introduced a package of seven bills to make it easier for law enforcement to target repeat shoplifters and organized retail crime rings.

“We need to change the dynamics in our communities to give law enforcement the tools to deal with this problem,” Zbur said, “and not roll back all the criminal justice reforms that have prevented people from being incarcerated for long periods of time.”

The package would create a new felony offense targeting serial shoplifting and allow individual shoplifting incidents to be combined to reach the $950 crime threshold. It would also lower the threshold of evidence that law enforcement needs to arrest shoplifters and create a new incentive for offenders to enter mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

In the state Senate, President Tempor Mike McGuire, D-Santa Rosa, introduced a companion package of 14 bills called “Working Together for a Safer California.”

The package includes bills to increase fines for organized retail theft and crack down on online sales of stolen goods. It also focuses on making it easier for community members and individuals in the criminal justice system to access substance abuse treatment and help for fentanyl addiction.

By breaking the cycle of addiction, McGuire hopes to also break the cycle of shoplifting to fund their habit.

Republican lawmakers have co-sponsored the retail theft packages in both the Senate and the Assembly and have also created bills of their own. For example, Assemblyman and former Sheriff Juan Alanis, R-Modesto, proposed a A public safety package of seven bills.

His package includes bills to give law enforcement and prosecutors new tools to resell stolen property and protect railroads and shipping lines from organized cargo theft.

Waiting to see which of the bills will make it to the governor’s desk.

While the Democratic Party has strength in numbers, it also has internal divisions over the best approach to tackling retail crime. While some lawmakers are open to increasing the fines for shoplifting, others believe that would reverse the gains made by reducing incarceration rates for black and brown communities.

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