The escalation of organized “smash-and-grab” robberies in cities around the country has been costly. CNN reported in January that retailers across America say shoplifting is now 2% to 3% of their total sales, forcing the retailers to install new security systems, video cameras and security staff.
A 2021 survey of retailers found 65% acknowledged an increase in violence, while 37% said Organized Retail Crime gangs were much more aggressive than in the past.
“Law enforcement officials recovered around $8 million worth of stolen merchandise from retailers like CVS, Walgreens and Target, from the ring’s warehouse, residences and storage facility, along with roughly $85,000 in cash. Officials also seized nearly $1.9 million from the ring’s various bank accounts,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
With every 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 raise lawmakers’ and the public’s knowledge of the growing theft problem in the state. CARRT is a broad-based coalition of business associations, local groups, and victim organizations advocating for California officials to act now to undo 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 addressing their experiences.
During the conference, Richard Wardwell with the California Grocers Association addressed how the massive theft is not only impacting the bottom lines of businesses, but adding to inflation. The Globe spoke with Wardwell who is the CEO of Superior Grocers after the press conference. Superior Grocers is one of the largest independently-owned chains of grocery stores in Southern California with 47 stores, and three more underway, Wardwell said.
During the press conference, Wardwell showed video from their stores of brazen thefts. One thief left the store with a shopping cart loaded with cases of beer. Another thief filled a shopping cart with boxes of diapers. He said Superior Grocers have at least 200 incidences of theft 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 it’s because theft up to $950 a day is allowed under the guise of reduced prison populations and for money for schools – which has not happened.”
Proposition 47, passed by misinformed voters in 2014, and flagrantly titled “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” reduced a host of felonies to misdemeanors, including drug crimes, date rape, and all thefts under $950, even for repeat offenders who steal every day. Prop. 47 which decriminalized drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, also removed law enforcement’s ability to make an arrest in most circumstances, as well as removing judges’ ability to order drug rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration.
Wardwell is right. The Assembly Public Safety Committee heard and killed Assembly Bill 1599 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) in March, which sought to repeal Proposition 47, and “make crime illegal again.” As Kiley said in a Fox News interview, even the most radical Democrats in the Legislature recognize that because of Prop. 47, crime is out of control and the initiative needs to be repealed. “It has essentially legalized theft and open drug use in California, culminating in these unbelievable smash-and-grab robberies,” Kiley said. “Voters were egregiously misled about what this would do.”
Yet Democrats still voted to kill Kiley’s bill.
“Retail theft losses may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said Julian Canete, President and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. “Something needs to be done before mom and pop stores are stolen from our communities.”
“While auto shops aren’t generally directly affected by retail or residential theft, we see and deal with the results every day by taking care of our customers’ damaged vehicles,” said David Kusa of the Automotive Service Councils of California. “Unfortunately, business is booming because catalytic converter theft and ‘smash and grabs’ with car windows broken are filling auto repair shops.”
The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released a report that found a direct correlation between Proposition 47 and a marked increase in larceny thefts across California, despite many media reports attempting to refute the correlation, CARRT reported.
The Globe reported in December that the Sacramento Bee did a recent “Fact Check” on claims that Prop. 47 is to blame for the current statewide crime wave. The Bee says these claims are “Mostly false,” even after acknowledging, “Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, recently called Proposition 47 ‘the biggest con job in California history’ in comments to a Los Angeles Times columnist.”
“Proposition 47 didn’t just make theft under $950 a misdemeanor, but also got rid of what we called “priorability”; [it] interfered with the police’s ability to arrest someone for misdemeanor shoplifting, unless they actually witnessed it,” said Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Michele Hanisee. “Then of course, Proposition 57 allowed early release of not only nonviolent felons, but also sex offenders and three strikers. If you add to that some of the current policies we are seeing from the district attorneys and the courts, such as zero bail and district attorneys who won’t prosecute misdemeanors, it creates a perfect storm and there is just no consequence for crime.”
During the Wednesday press conference, a member of the media asked Richard Wardwell how retail theft increases inflation. He explained that theft adds to the cost of groceries. He also said Superior Grocers had to spend millions to put in new security systems, millions to install security 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 in fact have the loss of stock which needs to be replaced at their cost. 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 noticed a marked increase in property crimes, CARRT reported. The Los Angeles Police Department reported property crimes were up more than 11% compared to the same time period from the year before, with burglaries up 8%. San Francisco Police Department reported larceny-theft is up more than 25% as compared to the same time period last year.
“It’s time to put an end to retail and residential theft on Main Street and in our neighborhoods,” said Matt Ross, spokesperson for CARRT. “That starts with a series of discussions in the Capitol and our neighborhoods to identify realistic solutions to the growing theft problem.”
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