California Republicans Aim to Make Theft Illegal

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In 2014, California basically decriminalized theft by permitting shoplifters to take what they please, as long as it was under $950. Prop 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, emboldened criminals to do as they please with no repercussions as they cannot be prosecuted for a felony charge. California does not aggregate robberies, so a criminal could target a store multiple times per week with limited repercussions as long as each robbery yielded under $950.

Republican lawmakers have introduced AB 1599 which would repeal most of Prop 47 and “make crime illegal again.” Republican Assembly member Kevin Kiley, an author of AB 1599, said, “[Prop 47] has essentially legalized theft and open drug use in California, culminating in these unbelievable smash-and-grab robberies.”

Smash and grab robberies have become an organized crime by low-level criminals. “You have people that will go into department stores and they’ll actually have a calculator on them,” Kiley said. “They’ll add up the value of what they’re stealing because they know as long as it’s under $950, they might as well wave at the security camera on the way out. They know there’s going to be no consequence for that.”

Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of California Retailers Association (CRA), noted that San Francisco and Oakland alone have lost $3.6 billion annually to organized retail crime. The National Retail Federation places estimates losses from organized crime at around 0.07% of total sales and believes the CRA is overestimating. Regardless, this is a preventable loss. Governor Gavin Newsom would need to approve of the measure, but has been consistent on his light on crime stance. Newsom has ignored pleas to crackdown on shoplifting, and simply told struggling store owners to use other existing laws to prosecute thieves. Independent store owners would be wise to leave California as the laws in place only protect criminals who have abused Prop 47.