California · California Recall

Newsom’s stares down newest recall foe: an avalanche of viral brazen shoplifting videos

As California’s daily petty crime becomes viral fodder on social media and crime rates across the Golden State reach post-Cold War highs following years of lenient criminal justice reforms, the issue of California’s crime wave has made landfall in the 2021 recall.

Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom parachuted to Los Angeles County to get ahead of the issue and sign a bill aimed at tackling a small portion of the effects generated by seven years of decriminalization in California.

While attempting to pivot the issue of California’s crime wave toward a national debate on gun violence, the issues that have captured the average Californian’s eyes are decidedly an only-in-the-Golden State phenomenon.

Newsom’s bill signing du jour tackling so-called “organized retail theft” came one day after famed talk show host Adam Carolla published another in a string of videos showing thieves exiting a TJ Maxx store in Los Angeles County with mountains of clothes in a brazen shoplifting case where they didn’t even attempt to conceal their faces or identities.

Proposition 47, the 2014 state law that reclassified a number of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, changed how some theft cases are charged due to the value of the items.

That included the then-newly-crafted misdemeanor of “shoplifting” which set the value for such a crime at $950. Suspects convicted of shoplifting in California are subject to a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail.

Newsom signed Assembly Bill 331, drafted by Los Angeles Democratic Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer as part of his push back on crime.

Flanking Newsom at the Wednesday bill signing was San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott.

Scott, whose city is routinely among the top in the nation for shoplifting incidents, is noted for having rejected to utilize San Francisco Police officers to arrest shoplifters for any incident deemed a misdemeanor.

Scott established a policy whereby citizen’s arrests must be carried out for misdemeanors.

“If it’s a felony, our officers can take action,” Scott said last week amid a raft of shoplifting cases in San Francisco. “But if it’s a misdemeanor, that arrest has to be a private person’s arrest. And that makes a difference because they have to be willing to do that.”

Newsom, a staunch advocate of decriminalization under Prop. 47, offered tepid pseudo-endorsement for a key prosecutorial tool – sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders.

However, Newsom’s record on sentencing enhancement stands in stark contrast to the statement, including signing a bill that rolled back a key sentencing enhancement on violent felons who have reoffended.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.