California businesses launch campaign against retail theft and property crime

The escalation of organized robberies in cities across the country has been costly. CNN reported in January that retailers across America say shoplifting now accounts for 2% to 3% of their total sales, forcing retailers to install new security systems, video cameras and security personnel.

A 2021 survey of retailers found that 65% admitted an increase in violence, while 37% said organized retail crime gangs were much more aggressive than in the past.

“Law enforcement officers recovered approximately $8 million worth of stolen merchandise from retailers including CVS, Walgreens and Target, the ring’s warehouse, apartments and storage facility, along with approximately $85,000 in cash. Officials also seized nearly $1.9 million from the ring’s various bank accounts,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

With each legislative solution killed by California’s Democratic supermajority, retailers and chambers of commerce formed Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft (CARRT) and launched a campaign to increase lawmakers’ and public awareness of the state’s growing theft problem. CARRT is a broad coalition of business groups, local groups and victim organizations campaigning for California officials to act now to reverse the damage done by Proposition 47.

CARRT held a Zoom press conference Wednesday with the California Asian Chamber of Commerce, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, the Automotive Service Councils of California and the California Grocers Association, all of whom discussed their experiences.

During the conference, Richard Wardwell of the California Grocers Association discussed how the massive theft is not only affecting bottom line, but also contributing to inflation. The Globe spoke to Superior Grocers CEO Wardwell after the press conference. Superior Grocers is one of the largest independent grocery chains in Southern California with 47 stores and three more are underway, Wardwell said.

During the press conference, Wardwell showed video of brazen thefts from their stores. A thief left the store with a shopping cart full of crates of beer. Another thief filled a shopping cart with diaper boxes. He said Superior Grocers have at least 200 thefts daily and 1,400 weekly, according to his security staff.

“It’s all segments of society, people of all shapes, sizes and status,” Wardwell said. “And that’s because theft is allowed up to $950 a day under the guise of a reduced prison population and for money for schools — which hasn’t happened.”

Proposition 47, adopted by misinformed voters in 2014, and shamelessly titled The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, reduced a variety of crimes to misdemeanors, including drug-related crimes, date rape, and all thefts under $950, even for repeat offenders who steal every day. Prop. 47 which decriminalizing drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor also eliminated law enforcement’s ability to make an arrest in most cases and the ability of judges to order drug rehabilitation programs in lieu of incarceration.

Warwell is right. The Assembly Public Safety Committee heard and killed Rep. Kevin Kiley’s (R-Granite Bay) Assembly Bill 1599 in March, which aimed to repeal Proposition 47 and “make crime illegal again.” As Kiley said in an interview with Fox News, even the most radical Democrats in the Legislature recognize that crime is out of control because of Prop. 47 and the initiative needs to be repealed. “It essentially legalized theft and overt drug use in California, culminating in these incredible robberies,” Kiley said. “Voters have been egregiously misled as to what this would do.”

Yet Democrats still voted to scrap Kiley’s bill.

“Losses from retail theft could be the last straw,” said Julian Canete, president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. “Something must be done before corner shops are stolen from our communities.”

“While auto repair shops are generally not directly affected by retail or home theft, we see and deal with the consequences every day as we take care of our customers’ damaged vehicles,” said David Kusa of the Automotive Service Councils of California. “Unfortunately, business is booming, with catalytic converter theft and ‘impact’ with broken car windows filling car repair shops.”

The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released a report that found a direct link between Proposition 47 and a significant increase in thefts across California, although many media reports attempted to disprove the link, CARRT reported.

The Globe reported in December that the Sacramento Bee recently conducted a “fact check” on claims that Prop. 47 is responsible for the current nationwide crime spree. The Bee says these claims are “largely false,” even after admitting that “Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, in recent comments to a Los Angeles Times columnist, described Proposition 47 as ‘the greatest fraud in history Californias’.”

“Proposition 47 not only made theft under $950 a misdemeanor, but also eliminated what we called “priority”; [it] affects the ability of police to arrest someone for shoplifting unless they actually witnessed it,” said Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Michele Hanisee. “Then, of course, Proposition 57 allowed for the early release not only of nonviolent criminals, but also of sex offenders and three strikers. If you add to that some of the current guidance we’re seeing from prosecutors and courts, such as For example, no bail and prosecutors who don’t prosecute crimes create a perfect storm and there are simply no consequences for crimes.

During Wednesday’s press conference, a media representative asked Richard Wardwell how retail theft increases inflation. He explained that theft increases the cost of groceries. He also said Superior Grocers would have to spend millions to install new security systems, millions to install surveillance cameras and millions to hire security guards.

He told the reporter that if they make $100,000 in profit but $100,000 in retail theft goes out the door, they have no profit and actually have the loss of inventory that needs to be replaced at their expense. Wardwell told the Globe. “If you go out and buy a new car and someone steals your new car, can you afford to just buy another new car? Of course not.”

In the first four months of 2022, several law enforcement agencies noted a significant increase in property crime, CARRT reported. The Los Angeles Police Department reported that property crimes increased by more than 11% and burglaries by 8% compared to the same period last year. The San Francisco Police Department reported that robberies increased by more than 25% compared to the same period last year.

“It’s time to put an end to retail and home theft on Main Street and in our neighborhoods,” said Matt Ross, spokesman for CARRT. “This begins with a series of discussions in the Capitol and in our neighborhoods to find realistic solutions to the growing problem of theft.”

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