If any California proposition of the last half-century is an obvious candidate for a major rewrite, it is the 2014 Proposition 47, which made small-time offenses out of all thefts of more than $950 value unless the perpetrator had a prior history of violent crimes.
For sure, it is currently under threat. Alive right now in the Legislature are several efforts to cancel most of Prop. 47 or increase penalties for some crimes it deems minor.
Ask most police and they’ll say this law is a major factor behind the wave of shoplifting that has plagued cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Fresno and caused closure of many retail stores, especially in San Francisco.
They also attribute the so-called “smash-and-grab” robbery/burglaries during last fall’s Thanksgiving week to the same law. That might be a bit of a misattribution, as voters by a 60-40 margin in 2020 voted down the Proposition 20 attempt to make organized retail theft chargeable as a felony even if stolen goods amount to less than $950 per incident.
For now, under Prop. 47, this can only be charged as a misdemeanor, very likely one motivating factor in the group smash-and-grabs involving as many as 80 persons per-incident and about as organized as they could have been.
It’s true that a variety of police and media studies have shown crimes like larceny are up about 9% since the new value limits — up from the prior $250 petty theft limit — were raised eight years ago.
At the same time, because crimes that were formerly felonies suddenly became misdemeanors, police and prosecutors changed their practices, going from court hearings that set bail amounts to simple arrest, book and release if a crime involved less value than $950.
This went without much fanfare until the smash-and-grab crimes occurred en masse in many parts of California, highlighting the weaknesses of Prop. 47.
The incidents gave a boost to an impending recall election against San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the son of two former Weather Underground members convicted of driving getaway cars in a deadly New York state robbery.
Boudin’s opponents object to the light-to-no bail he has imposed on criminal suspects, even after voters roundly rejected a state law passed by legislators which aimed for a no-bail system.
Meanwhile, the equally leftist Los Angeles County DA, George Gascon, was served just afterward with his own fresh set of recall papers.
Backers of Prop. 47, including Gov, Gavin Newsom, have long noted the felony theft floors in conservative places like Texas and South Carolina are more than double the current California amount. They say inflation prior to Prop. 47 meant onetime misdemeanors were now routinely being prosecuted as felonies, thus overloading prisons and county jails with minor criminals.
Still, it’s hard to overestimate the effects of the smash-and-grab events. Politically, without them, the toughen-47 proposals would go nowhere.
Plus, private security contractors report a dramatic upswing in orders for burglar alarm systems since Thanksgiving. That trend actually began shortly after the nationally televised, organized burglaries and robberies in downtown Santa Monica last May, when police didn’t bother intervening while shops were plundered, sometimes to death.
Security patrols in wealthy areas like Malibu and Bel-Air also report higher demand.
At the same time, custom car modifiers report an upswing in demand for bulletproof vehicles. Other reports add that stocks of fake Rolex and Omega watches like those often sold by street vendors in cities like Shanghai and Buenos Aires are being snapped up, owners of genuine high-end products hesitating to wear actual bling in public.
For sure, stealing the cheap imitations will not result in long-term prison sentences for anyone who does not use a gun during their heists.
Newsom responds to all this by saying “We want real accountability, we want people prosecuted and we want people to feel safe.
But others question if that’s possible while Prop. 47 remains intact.
That initiative easily withstood the threat of changes from Prop. 20 in the last general election. But criminals appear to have changed public thinking about the issues those measures covered, at least somewhat.
Which makes Prop. 47 ripe for at least some legislative changes.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Prop. 47 ripe for a rewrite as wave of shoplifting hitting California