Political leaders must lead fight against organized retail crime

A shoplifter puts a pair of jeans under his jacket. (Photo: Fotosenmeer, via Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that California is facing an epidemic of retail theft and crime.

We see the images on social media and on news sites. Brazen smash and grab thefts by large groups of individuals in malls and shopping centers throughout the state. Cargo trains that are broken into and ransacked, leaving behind empty packages that will never get delivered. What we don’t see is the organized criminal network that is behind the root of the problem.

Organized retail crime has a detrimental effect on our neighborhood stores and retailers. Oftentimes, stores find themselves the repeat victim of theft. Not only do the financial losses of stolen goods pile up, but they are often left with shattered windows and broken locks.

As a result of being repeatedly targeted by coordinated thieves, neighborhood stores in many communities have reduced their hours and in some cases even closed permanently.

It’s gotten so bad that cities are creating programs like the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant in San Francisco that helps small businesses repair the damage from destructive burglaries and theft.

Encountering one of these crimes can be traumatic for consumers and employees. And there is no solace when it’s known that there are little repercussions even if perpetrators are caught. We shouldn’t take lightly the real fear this causes for shoppers and employees.

It’s not just stores that are victims of organized retail crime, but our neighborhoods and residents too — partially those in communities of color.

As a result of being repeatedly targeted by coordinated thieves, neighborhood stores in many communities have reduced their hours and in some cases even closed permanently.

This disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities, who according to the Pew Research Center rely more on public transportation and therefore would be forced to travel further distances and take more time to shop for basic needs like medicine, food, and everyday necessities.

We desperately need California leaders to take action to protect consumers, retail employees and our neighborhoods.

But there is not just one simple fix to solve this problem. That’s why we have formed Californians for Safe Stores and Neighborhoods which is advocating for the governor and Legislature to support a comprehensive solution to dismantle organized retail crime.

First, we need to continue the investment made by Gov. Newsom and the Legislature in last year’s budget with funding for the retail crime task force. The more than $300 million annually for the next three years in Governor Newsom’s “The Real Public Safety Plan,” will provide critical funding to combat organized retail crime so Californians and small businesses across the state can feel safe.

Next, we need to address the problem of the digital black market. Senate Bill 301 (Skinner) is a common-sense, online marketplace transparency reform that will disrupt high-volume ‘fencing’ operations and bring criminal enterprises out of the shadows.

Finally, AB 2390 (Muratsuchi) gives members of the Legislature a highly sought-after opportunity to pass a balanced policy proposal that safeguards existing criminal justice reforms while demonstrating that Sacramento is attentive to public safety concerns of Californians.

This desperately needed legislation would open the door for thousands of additional offenders to be eligible for diversion programs established by Proposition 47 — which would deter serial theft and provide individuals an off-ramp from incarceration and into effective and life-changing diversion and job training programs.

 While amendments to previously approved initiatives typically have to go back to the ballot for final voter approval, the state’s Legislative Counsel has confirmed the proposed changes strengthen the spirit of the initiative and therefore only require adoption by two-thirds of both state houses and the signature of Gov. Newsom.

It’s clear that organized retail crime is an urgent crisis that the governor and Legislature need to address to protect consumers, retail employees and our neighborhoods. And, it’s time to recognize that a comprehensive solution is achievable — we just need the political will.

Join us and Californians for Safe Stores and Neighborhoods to urge California leaders to solve this crisis. CASafeShopping.org.

Editor’s Note: Rachel Michelin is president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, a statewide trade association that represents all segments of the retail industry.  Robert Apodaca is executive director of United Latinos Action, which seeks to close the racial wealth gap through homeownership.

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