What crime? Newsom budget proposes more than $300M to combat retail theft in California

Announcement came a few weeks after dozens of looters ransacked several high profile stores in the Bay Area.
Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a slew of new funding Friday to address crime across California, marking the state’s latest effort to crack down on retail theft after a series of smash-and-grab robberies last month.

The governor, joined by Attorney General Rob Bonta, offered a preview of around $335 million in funding proposed in his January budget to address organized retail crime and theft after a series of stores were robbed last month in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Newsom is asking for $250 million in grant funding in his budget proposal for local law enforcement to address retail theft, $20 million in grants for district attorneys to investigate and prosecute theft, $20 million for border issues, $20 million in grants for small businesses affected by theft and $25 million to support local gun buyback programs.

The governor’s proposal will have to be reviewed and approved by lawmakers before any funding is allocated, meaning it could be months until any of these grants take effect. Newsom is set to formally introduce his budget to the Legislature in January.

“Crime and violence is top of mind all throughout not only the state of California, but all across the United States; highlighted recently by some high profile retail operations,” Newsom said Friday. “These organized retail gangs, these organized retail mobs that are not only increasing and heightening the anxiety that people are feeling but, more importantly, are expressing themselves in a way that has a profound impact on our feeling of safety here in this state, this region and, as I note, across this country.”

The governor’s announcement came a few weeks after dozens of looters ransacked several high profile stores in the Bay Area, stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and causing several San Francisco stores to board up their windows. Similar thefts were reported in Los Angeles.

While promising an increase in funding for law enforcement to pursue thieves and perpetrators of crimes, Newsom said Friday new funding will not roll back the state’s commitment to violence intervention programs. The state allocated $200 million over three years in last year's budget for the advancement of such programs.

“We're not walking back on our commitment in the state to advance comprehensive reforms. We're not walking back in this state to right the wrongs of the past,” Newsom said. “But we also have to recognize this moment we're in, and we have to recognize people's fears and anxieties.”

Newsom’s budget proposal also will spur the creation of a full-time California Department of Justice team that would be dedicated to investigating and prosecuting retail theft in California, working in conjunction with Bonta. The attorney general said Friday the additional funding will bolster the department’s efforts to “tackle organized retail theft” and “crack down” on violent crime.

Critics have attributed the spike in retail theft to Proposition 47, a 2014 ballot initiative that lowered sentencing for some nonviolent offenses, including crimes where the retail value of stolen goods does not exceed $950. After last month’s series of thefts, some Republican lawmakers said they would introduce legislation to repeal the proposition.

Newsom addressed the criticism Friday, saying Proposition 47 has nothing to do with retail thefts and promised the state would hold offenders accountable while also reforming the criminal justice system.

“I'm just sick and tired of this either/or debate, which I think is rather lazy and unfortunate,” the governor said.

Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, issued a statement after Newsom’s announcement that was critical of the governor’s investment in public safety despite “encouraging soft on crime policies.”

“The Democrats’ relentless push for their ‘criminals first’ agenda has turned this once-majestic state into a sanctuary for criminals,” Wilk said. “It shouldn’t have taken increasing homicide rates, widespread news reports of smash-and-grabs, and pleas from Californians for Democrats to come to this realization.”

Other groups, however, praised Newsom for his efforts and applauded him for new investments in combatting retail theft.

“The budget package announced today by Governor Newsom designates significant resources for improved public safety and prosecutorial efforts. This is welcome news,” California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Barrera said in a statement. “We urge the Legislature to approve this budget package so the problems created by these organized theft rings can be most effectively addressed.”