Shoplifting and stealing are becoming a bigger problem in California, which is why small businesses are showing interest in two statewide ballot measures that deal with crime and justice. Proposition 20 seeks sterner criteria defining felonies, while Proposition 25 is a referendum on the Legislature’s no cash bail law.  

A survey by the National Retailers Association said theft is at an all-time high, costing business nearly 2% of their profits. Law enforcement in California blames the increase in shoplifting on Proposition 47. Passed in 2014, it raised the dollar threshold for theft from $450 to $950 per location, making it a misdemeanor instead of a felony. 

Because of this change, there has been an upsurge of retail theft and commensurately, the inability of police and prosecutors to deal with the problem. The FBI reports that 49 California cities saw increases in property crimes. 

Larger retailers, like Target, say shoplifting has increased at least 15%. In a number of the larger retail stores, there has been an increased use of locked cases to protect goods from potential shoplifters. This has required a store staffer to unlock a case to retrieve a product for customers. Larger stores may also add security cameras and employ security guards.  

But small businesses do not have the money to invest in cameras, security guards, or protective lockboxes for their shops, or the money that “big box” stores typically have to legally defend themselves; hence the attraction for what the two initiatives seek to accomplish. 

Both Proposition 20 and Proposition 25 focus on a system that allows for catch-and-release of criminals who are free to continue their actions that threaten small businesses, their employees, and their customers. Prop 20 would restore sensible criminal justice laws that protect our mom-and-pop stores, while Prop 25 would set us, and our communities, back and put them further on edge. 

Theft is even more destructive to small businesses than to larger concerns. For small businesses living on the margin, even a 2% loss in profits, especially during these tough economic times, just might be the difference keeping a business’ doors open or closing them for good. 

Every four years, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the nation’s leading small-business association, publishes its Small Business Problems and Problems & Priorities report ranking the 75 worries of Main Street entrepreneurs. The latest edition, the 10th, came out in August, and found “Crime, including Identity theft, Shoplifting, etc.” listed at 62 as a concern of small business, but in California, it came in 53, nine positions higher than the national rank. 

Clearly, California has a bigger problem with the issue. When NFIB surveyed its California membership, it found two-thirds of responding small business owners support Proposition 20, while  two thirds oppose Proposition 25, which, because it’s a referendum on an existing law, means a ‘No’ vote would stop it from continuing to exist.

While small businesses have much to worry about during these times, being riper victims for theft should not be one of them.