Commentary: Critics Continue to Blame Prop 47 for a Crime Wave That Seems to Be Abating

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Many on the right are blaming Prop. 47 for what they are calling a retail theft crime wave.

One of the problems, critics argue, is that moving the felony line from $400 to $950 through Prop. 47 has made it more difficult to prosecute shoplifting.

But, as I pointed out in Sunday’s column, even raising the level to $950, California has one of the lowest thresholds in the country.

Moreover, there are a number of ways to get felony charges onto retail theft.

On Monday, San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins, for example, announced the charging of a woman in connection to a grand theft at the Macy’s incident in Union Square.

The woman was arraigned on April 26, 2024, and charged with one count of grand theft (PC § 487(a)).

“Retail theft has decimated our retail and small business community in San Francisco,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.  “My office will do everything we can to ensure that brazen retail thieves are held accountable for their crimes that impact not only the businesses but also the communities that they serve.  I would like to thank the San Francisco Police Department and the Macy’s loss prevention staff for working closely together to make an arrest in this case.”

The value of the property she allegedly took was around $1700—nearly double the felony limit.  She was arrested by San Francisco Police on April 25, 2024.

Moreover, the court set bail for $25,000 and thus the woman remains in custody.

Even if the value in this case did not exceed $950, there are other opportunities for prosecutors to charge felonies—any organized retail theft can be charged as a felony through conspiracy law.  Anytime force and threat are used, the individual can be charged with a felony.

There is an effort to overturn portions of Prop. 47—although interestingly enough, the felony amount would not be touched by an initiative that likely will be on the November ballot.

One DA that has been an opponent to the proposition from day one seemingly has been Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig.

“We’re here from both sides because Prop. 47 simply isn’t working as intended,” said Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig a few months ago. “We’ve seen the retail theft crisis spiral out of control and fentanyl is a crisis fueling the highest death rate we’ve ever seen. This is a commonsense fix to have some accountability again. It’s very balanced, very humane, and focused on treatment.”

Fox News yesterday ran a piece noting various attacks on public officials such as Mayor Karen Bass, whose residence was burglized and Adam Schiff, who was the victim of a vehicle break in.

Fox used these incidents to argue there is a crime spree in California—one not exactly backed up by the data.

Fox quoted former LA DA Steve Cooley saying, “I just think it’s ironic that Adam Schiff, who endorsed George Gascon, very publicly and very enthusiastically, is a victim of a theft.”

Reisig, for his part, after San Jose Mayor Mahan was accosted, said that “it’s more stark evidence that California’s urban centers have been turned into dangerous places, where seriously addicted, mentally ill and many violent people now roam freely due to weak state laws that have eroded accountability, deterrence and our quality of life.

“Many friends and family who live and work in the urban core of our big cities no longer feel safe even walking to lunch,” Reisig said on X. “Some have been violently assaulted or threatened. Others just can’t stand the oppressive smell anymore. The root cause of so much of the chaos and decay in CA is Prop 47, which essentially decriminalized the use of hard drugs and repeat theft under $950.”

But of course, as we noted this weekend, it is true that crime ticked up during the pandemic, but the data doesn’t show a clear relationship to Prop. 47.

Instead, it seems more likely that the pandemic simply disrupted the lives of so many and now we are starting to see crime data trickling back toward where they were in 2019—at 50-year lows.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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