Mobs of people have been raiding department stores and walking out with thousands of dollars in stolen goods. In some cases, up to 90 people have stormed into stores at one time, and thefts have not been confined to department stores. Union-Pacific freight trains entering Los Angeles are being systematically looted. In October 2021, the railroad reported a 356% increase in thefts over the previous year. Union-Pacific is reportedly considering bypassing Los Angeles, its major hub on the West Coast.
What are the causes of this seeming breakdown in civil order, and what can be done about it? Proposition 47, which voters approved in 2014, is a contributing factor. Among other provisions, shoplifting and grand theft, where the stolen property is valued at less than $950, were downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors. Thieves can steal up to $950 each day, it never adds up to a felony. In the wake of Prop. 47’s passage, some California retailers announced plans to completely shut down or curtail hours due to “off the charts” increases in thefts.
That’s why I have introduced Assembly Bill 1597, which will impose stricter penalties on thieves who repeatedly steal from California businesses. The bill will give prosecutors the discretion to charge thieves with prior convictions with either a felony or misdemeanor, restoring penalties to pre-Prop. 47 levels. The bill requires a majority vote from both houses, and since it amends a measure approved by voters, it would also require voter approval.
Everyone deserves a second chance if they make a mistake, but a pattern of repeated thefts is not a mistake, it’s a lifestyle. There must be consequences for these actions, or lawlessness will continue to spiral out of control. Public safety should be priority number one for the State Legislature. My bill is an important step towards creating safer neighborhoods for everyone.