California Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Addressing Organized Retail Theft

Elgin Nelson

California lawmakers, looking to crack down on retail theft, unveiled a new, comprehensive legislative package, known as the California Retail Theft Reduction Act. The legislation, introduced by three Democratic Assembly members—Speaker Robert Rivas of Salinas, Rick Chavez Zbur of Los Angeles, and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento—addresses the escalating issue of retail crime that is adversely impacting businesses across the state.

At a recent news conference, Speaker Rivas emphasized the significance of the package, labeling it as “crucial legislation” in the battle against a “serious crime” that is impacting businesses statewide.

The Act proposes several measures to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to address retail theft effectively. It empowers police to arrest shoplifters based on witness testimony or security footage. Additionally, the legislation allows prosecutors to pursue grand theft charges instead of petty theft by aggregating the value of stolen merchandise from multiple retailers.

Online sellers would be mandated to maintain records demonstrating the legal acquisition of their goods, and certain large retailers would be required to submit theft data to the state.

“Organized retail theft is having a chilling effect on our communities,” Speaker Rivas said. “Crime, like everything, evolves. And criminal enterprises are using new and different ways to get around current prohibitions—It is our responsibility to ensure that our laws are addressing the situation at hand.”

Retail theft, particularly high-profile incidents like “smash-and-grabs,” has become a focal point for both law enforcement and state lawmakers. A recent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed an increase in shoplifting, commercial burglary, and commercial robbery statewide between 2012 and 2022.

The proposed legislation does not alter the provisions of Proposition 47, which, since its passage in 2014, raised the felony prosecution threshold from $400 to $950. However, some state officials attribute the rising retail crime to Proposition 47 whereas others, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, seek to protect the proposition.

“Retail theft has changed,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “It’s become deeply organized. And that’s what we need to go after. And that’s a whole different thing.”

In 2022, the state allocated over $240 million to 31 police departments through a grant program to address retail theft locally. Several bills, including AB 1772, were also introduced to  address retail theft issues and potentially amend elements of Proposition 47.

The legislative push against Proposition 47 is not new, as a 2022 measure to lower the felony threshold from $950 to $400 ultimately failed. Wal-Mart and Target, along with two Democratic California mayors, have expressed support for ballot measures aiming to weaken Proposition 47, indicating the multifaceted and contentious nature of the ongoing debate surrounding retail theft legislation in the state.

However, with a shifting political landscape, renewed efforts are underway.

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