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California Crime Bill Takes Aim at Rampant Shoplifting

Newly proposed legislation aims to tamp down surging retail crime in California.

State Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi this month introduced Assembly Bill 23, an amendment to Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, that would lower the dollar threshold for incidences of theft and shoplifting punishable as felonies.

Under Prop. 47, which was passed in 2014, the theft of money, labor or property valued at less than $950 is classified as a misdemeanor. If the value of the property exceeds that amount, it is labeled grand theft, which is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Muratsuchi’s bill would reduce the threshold amount to $400—a move he believes would make criminals think twice about hitting retail stores.

“We’ve all seen these viral videos of the smash-and-grabs and I’m hearing more and more from my constituents, as well as folks from throughout the state of California—their concerns about the spike in these brazen acts of retail theft,” Muratsuchi told ABC 7 News. If passed, he believes the bill would have the effect of “restoring some accountability, especially for repeat offenders, so that we can protect the public.”

A National Retail Federation (NRF) survey of retail loss prevention and security executives in September revealed that shoplifting has become a nearly $100-billion problem for the industry at large. The same month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed that 46 percent of small businesses have had to raise prices due to shoplifting.

AB23 is Muratsuchi’s second attempt to amend Prop. 47 to be tougher on criminals. In March, the Democrat representing the Golden State’s 66th district introduced AB 2390, which sought to aggregate the value of stolen merchandise taken during one or more acts of shoplifting into a single count or charge, and raise the offense to a felony for values exceeding $950. The bill stalled in committee.

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The state has seen some recent movement, however. November saw Gov. Gavin Newsom sign AB 331 into law, expanding the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Crime Task Force through $300 million in funding to fight retail theft and shoplifting. It also passed Senate Bill 301, which will require high-volume sellers on online marketplaces to provide more identifying information in order to protect consumers against counterfeits and illicit selling.

A similar national bill, the INFORM Consumers Act, would not only compel sellers to provide more data to prospective shoppers, but require e-commerce platforms to collect and verify basic business information from third parties before they’re permitted to transact. The bill was incorporated into the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that passed in the House of Representatives this week.

Much of retail shrink is the result of the proliferation of organized retail crime (ORC) syndicates, according to the California Retailers Association (CRA). Networks of thieves seek out high-value goods that can be turned over for a profit, and often use the money generated through sales to fund other illegal acts. “California is recognized as a ‘hot spot’ for these activities,” according to CRA. Three of the top 10 cities in the country for ORC are located in the state, including Los Angeles, which ranks No. 1.