State Senators Approve Measure to Combat Organized Retail Theft Rings

By Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.
July 16, 2021 Updated: July 20, 2021

California’s state Senate has approved the re-enacting of a law that gives police the power to apprehend thieves and accomplices involved in organized retail theft rings.

The Senate voted 39-0 in favor of Assembly Bill 331 (AB 331) on July 15 to re-establish a law that had expired on July 1. The law includes provisions that criminalize organized retail theft and authorize the operation of the California Highway Patrol Property Crimes Task Force until Jan. 1, 2026.

Shoplifting rings have proliferated across the state since California voters approved Proposition 47, which reduced theft crimes under $950 to a misdemeanor from a felony.

Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) said on the Senate floor that Prop. 47 is the true underlying cause of the dramatic increase of organized retail theft.

“I support this measure, but I would, I guess, academically remind our members that a very unfortunate proposition—Proposition 47—facilitated and encouraged such theft to the extent now that some large retailers are closing their stores,” Nielsen said.

“They’ve been losing so much as a result of Prop. 47 decriminalizing this theft. People march into the stores, pick up everything they want [and] march out. If it’s under $950, because of Prop 47, you do not have to worry about any consequence. So if we were to have a culprit here, Prop. 47 deserves the discredit,” he said.

Sen. Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside) presented the bill authored by Sen. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles).

“The bill maintains the balance between tackling a perverse problem and preserving public safety reforms by targeting sophisticated operations rather than personal theft out of necessity,” Roth said.

“Since 2019, the availability of the organized retail theft description as a criminal offense and the CHP task force have been effective in busting retail theft rings throughout the state, and frankly, recovering millions and millions of dollars of property. The bill maintains these vital tools that have helped us collectively … disrupt these large retail theft rings operating throughout the state of California,” he said.

Several law enforcement and business organizations supported the legislation, including the California Business Properties Association, California District Attorneys Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Retailers Association, and the California Business Properties Association.

The bill advances to the California Assembly.

Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.