Battle Brewing over Legislative Package on Retail Theft – Rollback of Prop 47 at the Crosshairs

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Conservative DAs and law enforcement have been panicking over what they are calling a poison pill amendment, a series of bills that would tighten penalties on retail theft crimes.

The Assembly and Senate Public Safety committees on Tuesday did not vote on the controversial amendments to the package, and Republicans are unhappy, believing the amendments would void a group of the measures if a ballot initiative changing Proposition 47 passes in November.

In a letter from the San Bernardino County Sheriff dated June 7, he wrote: “The poison-pill amendments – specifically, an urgency clause and the automatic repeal of retail theft bills should voters adopt the initiative – undermine these efforts (in the battle against crime).  These amendments set a dangerous precedent, forcing our residents into a false choice between legislative reforms and necessary modifications to Proposition 47.”

San Luis Obispo DA Dan Dow posted on X, “Now as it has become clear that the initiative has qualified for the ballot, some Sacramento lawmakers have decided to put a ‘poison pill’ in the process.”

Meanwhile, progressive reformers back the comprehensive legislative package on retail theft and fentanyl that is moving through the California legislature.

In a release from the Prosecutor’s Alliance on Tuesday, “The package is a more effective response to the challenges facing California than the ballot initiative to roll back Proposition 47.

“The California legislature is doing the work it was elected to do: responding to the concerns of the people of California around retail theft and substance use with a comprehensive package of legislation. It does far more to promote safety in our communities than any effort to roll back Prop 47 could do,” said Cristine Soto DeBerry, Executive Director of Prosecutors Alliance Action.

The Prosecutor’s Alliance argues, “Rolling back Prop 47 would significantly threaten funding for victims and crime prevention. Since Prop 47 went into effect in 2014, the state has saved more than $800 million that has been invested back in our communities to prevent crime. Participants of programs backed by Prop 47 funding have recidivism rates up to 30 percent lower than those released from state prison. Over the next 10 years, the ballot initiative to roll back Prop 47 would take $750 million from the state’s most successful drug treatment and homelessness prevention programs and $300 million away from services for survivors of crime.”

“Retail theft and fentanyl are real issues that deserve real solutions, but rolling back Prop 47 isn’t the answer. By enacting a legislative package instead, we can maintain funding for crime survivors and crime prevention programs in our communities while also implementing new approaches to make our communities safer,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton.

Among the bills in the legislative package is SB 1144 by Senator Skinner and sponsored by Prosecutors Alliance Action, which will disrupt the sale of stolen goods on online marketplaces like Amazon and Facebook by requiring that third-party sellers be certified and banning sellers suspected of criminal activity from operating through online marketplace platforms.

Other bills allow for retail theft to be aggregated to be prosecuted as a felony and to be aggregated even if the thefts are committed in multiple places or against multiple victims.

“We have to hold people accountable when they cause harm to our communities while also working to stop crime before it happens. This legislative package does both. The legislature and governor should act swiftly to pass it,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.

Meanwhile, Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, the state’s leading public safety advocacy organization pushed back on efforts to roll back Prop 47.

The organization noted, “An initiative backed by right-wing law enforcement extremists that would increase rates of recidivism, cost taxpayers billions of dollars, balloon the size of the broken state prison system and defund critical programs that are successfully preventing repeat crime and providing support for crime victims has qualified for this November’s ballot.

“Since Proposition 47 passed property crime is down, recidivism is down, and racial disparities in the justice system are down,” Hollins said in a statement on Tuesday.  “Buyer beware, the effort to undo these successes is led by special interests that benefit financially from more incarceration––irrespective of whether that improves safety in our neighborhoods.”

But opponents of the rollback point out that Prop. 47 has little to do with these kinds of crime—many of which have been charged as felonies under existing law.

Crime has continued to drop.  In February, the LA Times reported, “In the latest sign that violent crime in Los Angeles is receding from a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, LAPD officials on Wednesday released statistics showing double-digit percentage declines in both homicides and nonfatal shootings in 2023.”

And national reports show that crime is dropping statewide and nationwide.

DA Gascón told the Vanguard that, in the winter, crime is in fact down.

“Not only is the Mayor talking about crime being down, but if you look at the LAPD website, the sheriff’s website, you look around the county, the departments that do report on crime regularly, and the crime numbers are down.”

He said that “we’ve had big reductions in violent crime this year. We started really mid 2022 to see crime started to come down. We still have an issue with car theft and organized retail theft, which are really national problems. They’re not local problems only.”

Gascón said, “Recently it was published by the New York Times and the LA Times this weekend more recently, how the numbers that retailer associations are given are actually grossly inaccurate and substantially less. And so the industry also has to step up and be honest with the public and sort of call it for what it is.”

Nevertheless, supporters of reform charge that law enforcement groups have weaponized reports of retail crime to rollback Prop. 47, a policy that they have long opposed.

“The troubling incidents we’ve all seen on television like smash and grabs were not changed by Proposition 47, nor are they implicated by this attempted repeal,” Hollins explained.

She continued, “This ballot initiative will do nothing to protect our safety or address the challenges we face, but it will drag California back into the worst and most destructive excesses of the failed war on drugs. It will result in nearly 45,000 Black and Brown Californians being locked up every year for simple possession of drugs for personal use, and it will cost California taxpayers more than $4.5 billion annually.”

But many believe that these changes would make things less than more safe.

Hollis added, “Above all, it will make us all less safe by cutting funding to programs that have dramatically reduced rates of repeat crime.”

She said, “This pro crime measure would defund services to victims of crime, and programs that have reduced homelessness and unemployment, while increasing graduation rates in schools. This measure blames solutions that have delivered results on our biggest problems in favor of tactics that were a proven failure 30 years ago. If we blame the wrong problems, we will miss the right solutions. Californians deserve safety and security, but this pro crime measure only takes us backwards.”

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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