LOS ANGELES—A group of California small business owners, stakeholders, and several chamber representatives—known as the Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft—launched its campaign this week to raise lawmakers’ and the public’s awareness of rising theft across the state.
“We’re hearing stories every day, these crimes appear to go unchecked,” said coalition spokesman Matt Ross on May 18. “Unfortunately, very little has been done by the legislature to address this problem.”
The campaign is urging state leaders to “undo the damage done by Proposition 47 and put an end to retail and residential theft on Main Street and in our neighborhoods.”
Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014, lowered the penalty for most non-violent property crimes to misdemeanors where the value stolen isn’t over $950. Opponents of the proposition say it encourages more criminal activity.
The Los Angeles Police Department reported property crimes are up more than 11 percent compared to the same time period last year. Burglaries jumped nearly 8 percent, and the San Francisco Police Department also noted a 25 percent increase in larceny theft compared to the same period last year.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research group, 65 percent of reported violent crimes in California were aggravated assaults, 26 percent were robberies, 8 percent were rapes, and 1 percent were homicides in 2020. The increase in property crime in 2021 was driven by car break-ins and auto thefts, the organization reported.
The coalition includes members from several chambers of commerce and other groups, including the California Asian Chamber of Commerce, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, the Automotive Service Councils of California, and the California Grocers Association.
“You steal from a store and then the perpetrator is out later that day, if he or she is even arrested at all,” David Nelson, who represents the state’s Asian Chamber of Commerce, said at a virtual meeting May 18. “When someone gets sentenced for a crime, they may face only mere days in jail, and this really doesn’t stop for the safety, security, and peace of mind of our communities.”
Under the state’s zero cash bail policy, even when arrests are made, suspects aren’t held for long.
The California Supreme Court ruled in March 2021 that judges must consider a suspect’s financial ability to pay when setting bail prices, which allows the defendants to walk free until further legal action is taken unless they’re deemed too dangerous.
“These are crimes that are not quickly prosecuted, people aren’t jailed,” said David Kusa, spokesman for the Automotive Service Councils of California. “People aren’t kept off the street, and they’re just back out there to do it again.”
The National Retailers Association Survey of Businesses found a nearly 60 percent increase in losses due to theft over the past year, noted Julian Canete, president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
“And this is something our small business owners or any small business owner cannot afford,” Canete said.
Richard Wardwell, of the California Grocers Association, said across several of his stores, he receives 200 notifications a day of theft occurrences, amounting to 1,400 incidents a week.
“What bothers me more is that our employees approach them and ask them for a receipt or something else, which leads to further altercations,” Wardwell said. “It’s causing a safety hazard in our stores.”
If retail theft continues at this rate, Wardwell said rising costs will be the result. Educating state legislators about what each business community is experiencing will be the first step the coalition takes in its new campaign effort.
“And so you have the rising cost of fuel, the rising cost of labor, the rising cost of staff, and [it could] outpace the ability to make profits,” he said. “[We] ask for help in reducing this or eliminating it through legislation and or other means so that we can get back to a normalized society.”