When California voters passed Proposition 47 in 2014, they did it with good intentions. By changing non-violent crimes like theft, forgery, and drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors, voters hoped to focus corrections resources on hardened criminals, while funding crime prevention programs and rehabilitating low-level offenders.
Unfortunately, the reality of Prop. 47 hasn’t lined up with the lofty expectations. Career criminals have found loopholes in the law that allow them to avoid facing any serious consequences for their behavior. For example, organized crime groups have exploited the reduced punishments for property crimes, causing that type of offense to spike dramatically.
Shoplifting, in particular, has exploded under the new sentencing rules. While some consider it a minor crime, retail theft has real consequences for its victims. This is especially so for small, locally owned businesses, which already face a razor-thin profit margin. Right now, as long as a shoplifter only steals $950 worth of goods at a time, they cannot be charged with a felony. Organized crime groups have figured this out, sending low-level criminals on multiple shoplifting trips with little fear of a lengthy jail sentence if caught. Business owners have even reported thieves walking in with calculators to ensure they stay under the $950 threshold. In some areas, the situation has gotten so bad that the police have stopped arresting shoplifters because they don’t face any jail time.
To fight this, Assemblyman Scott Wilk and I have introduced a bill that would fix Prop. 47, close this loophole, and allow law enforcement to fight organized crime. If this reform is enacted, it would allow prosecutors to charge a shoplifter with a felony if they are found to have stolen more than $950 worth of goods over the course of six months. It would also allow prosecutors to go after growing shoplifting syndicates with conspiracy charges – a charge that carries far more weight than misdemeanor theft.
This bill would not make a felon out of a teenager caught stealing a soda. When voters passed Prop. 47, they were clear they didn’t want that. What it would do is give the police and prosecutors the tools they need to fight organized criminals that prey on businesses. It’s a common-sense measure that respects the spirit of Prop. 47 while protecting people from sophisticated criminals.