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 it a small-time offense to steal anything worth less than $950, unless you have a history of violent crimes.
For sure, it is under threat. Lawmakers have introduced measures to cancel most of Prop. 47 or increase penalties for some crimes it covers.
Many police say this law is a major factor in the wave of shoplifting that has plagued cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles and closed many stores.
They also blame it for so-called “smash-and-grab” heists — involving up to 80 people — during Thanksgiving week.
Another factor is voters, who by a 60-40 margin in 2020 voted down the Proposition 20 attempt to make organized retail theft a felony regardless of amount.
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 some felonies suddenly became misdemeanors, police and prosecutors started simply arresting, booking and releasing defendants when a crime involved less value than $950.
This went without much fanfare until the smash-and-grab crimes highlighted 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 suspects, even after voters roundly rejected a 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 being prosecuted as felonies, 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 people plundered shops, some of which later closed.
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 may have changed public thinking, at least somewhat.
That makes Prop. 47 ripe for at least some legislative changes.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Organized theft and shoplifting wave show California law needs change