Some forms of retail theft have increased in California.
Here’s how that crime can affect you (assuming you’re not the one stealing).
What does the data say?
Let’s talk about a few different forms of retail theft: shoplifting, commercial burglary and robberies, and organized retail crime.
Shoplifting (commercial theft of items not worth more than $950) rates increased nearly 29% in 2022, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, but that’s still 8% lower than before the pandemic.
“So-called smash-and-grabs at high-end stores across the nation frequently make the national headlines, as do retail closures—especially in San Francisco—that are seen as partly due to shoplifting,” according to a September post from the institute.
But it’s commercial burglary (theft of more than $950 worth of products) and robbery (theft involving threats or violence) rates that are the problem.
California’s 2022 commercial burglary rate jumped nearly 16% from 2019. And commercial robberies increased more than 13% from 2019.
Organized retail crime, according to the attorney general’s office, occurs when organized criminal rings steal property intending to sell and distribute it, or return stolen goods for value.
What laws does California have on retail theft?
Let’s address the main ones, according to the attorney general’s office:
Senate Bill 301: This passed in 2022 and provides threshold requirements for marketplaces to gather and store information on high volume, third party sellers. It also requires online marketplaces to suspect future sales of those sellers who don’t comply with the reporting requirements.
Assembly Bill 1700: This bill, also passed in 2022, creates an online reporting tool managed by the attorney general’s office to give you a way to report organized retail theft. Here’s the link. The form asks for as much information as you can provide, such as the suspect’s name and address, as well as the name and address of the witness.
Proposition 47: Voters approved this in 2014. It reclassified certain nonviolent crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies, including shoplifting.
What other steps are being taken? Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Department of Justice have also established the Organized Retail Criminal Enterprises program through two new investigative teams in the Bureau of Investigation’s White Collar Crimes Unit.
Are prices going up because of theft?
For some businesses, yes.
Half of small business owners surveyed in September 2022 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said shoplifting has gotten worse in the past year and 46% said they had to raise prices as a result of shoplifting.
“Retail theft is not a victimless crime, and its increasing prevalence means greater danger for store employees and higher costs for law-abiding Americans,” Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the chamber, said in a news release about the survey.
It’s not just small businesses.
In its quarter one earnings report, Target announced it expected shrink — what retailers call losses including external theft, employee stealing and systemic errors — to reduce profits by more than $500 million compared to 2022.
The report cited theft and organized retail crime as significant causes of the problem. Higher inventory shrink cut into the company’s gross margin rate despite factors such as retail price increases, lower freight costs and lower clearance markdown rates.
Does California have a no-chase policy?
An earlier version of Senate Bill 553: Workplace Violence Prevention would have prohibited employers from requiring non-security personnel to confront suspected shoplifters. That language was taken out of the legislation.
The bill that passed required employers to create effective workplace violence prevention plans and authorizes a collective bargaining representative of a worker who suffered unlawful violence to get a temporary restraining order.
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