California Dems propose ways to increase shoplifting arrests, prosecutions

Notably, both bills are from Democrats representing Los Angeles, which witnessed an 81% increase in reported shoplifting in 2023 compared to 2022.
A jail cell

(The Center Square) - California Democrats are proposing measures to reduce shoplifting as businesses across the state shut down in crime-ridden urban centers. One measure would allow police to stop suspected thieves via probable cause, while another would allow prosecutors to punish serially convicted thieves with three years in prison.

AB 1990 from Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo’s, D-Boyle Heights, would allow police to arrest suspected thieves under probable cause, instead of having to have actually seen the theft take place. The bill has one Republican co-author, Juan Alanis, R-Modesto, suggesting it could have the bipartisan support it may need to pass in the face of defection from some Democrats.

“AB1990, the STOP Act, is an urgent call to action in response to the alarming escalation of organized retail theft that threatens the very fabric of our communities,” Carrillo said in a statement. “Shoplifting adversely affects both small and large businesses, our state's economy, and the security and well-being of our neighborhoods.”

SB 923 from State Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, would expand the definition of shoplifting to include those who “intend” to shoplift, and would allow prosecutors to sentence thieves with two or more prior theft-related offenses with up to three years in prison. This bill would require approval by California voters. With seven of the bill’s co-authors being Republican Senators, this bill also has strong bipartisan support.

“Californians have a right to be safe, and polling shows that crime is a serious issue for voters, so any bill that supports getting criminals off our streets and holding them accountable is a step in the right direction,” said State Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, to The Center Square. “These measures aren’t perfect, but as the saying goes ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’”

Notably, both bills are from Democrats representing Los Angeles, which witnessed an 81% increase in reported shoplifting in 2023 compared to 2022. It’s likely much of the city’s shoplifting remains unreported, as demonstrated in 2021 in San Francisco, when a single Target store in San Francisco started reporting more of its shoplifting, causing the city’s shoplifting totals to double.

Los Angeles prosecutors said they’d welcome these bills but warn that the effectiveness of these tools would rely on the willingness of prosecutors to deploy them.

“With [Los Angeles District Attorney George] Gascon, he's not authorizing prosecutions, particularly of juveniles and people who steal less than $950. If the [district attorney] is not going to do the job then these additional tools will not tackle the situation,” said former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Nate Hochman, who is running against Gascon, to The Center Square. “If criminals understand they will no longer get a free pass and that the law will be fairly and consistently enforced, then that will deter them from committing crimes in the first place.”

However, as seen in San Francisco, even if arrests are being made and prosecutions are being filed under the broad support of the public and elected officials, judges can still constrain legal action against alleged criminals.

In December, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ office said it had recently “filed over 350 motions to detain dangerous drug dealing suspects and the courts have only granted 34 thus far.”