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New California Bill Targets Retail Theft, ‘Unintended Consequences’ of Prop. 47

Source: California Insider

With retail theft crimes impacting communities across California, Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) is introducing legislation that will address concerns related to a measure passed by voters in 2014 to reform criminal justice laws.

At issue is Proposition 47, designed to reduce prison populations by recategorizing some felony drug and theft crimes as misdemeanors.

“As well-intentioned as Prop. 47 was, we need to adjust to the reality that it has created in California,” Mr. Villapudua told The Epoch Times by email Jan. 4. “Businesses are shuttering, and employees and customers are being put in harm’s way during incidents of aggressive retail theft.”

The newly introduced Assembly Bill 1787 remains a work in progress, he said.

The measure will “address specific shortcomings of Proposition 47 with a more balanced and effective approach to the enforcement of retail theft in California,” according to a press release announcing the bill.

Cracking down on repeat offenders is the first item mentioned in the assemblyman’s statement and was a common theme presented to state officials at two separate hearings studying retail theft in December.

Retail and law enforcement experts told lawmakers during the hearings that Prop. 47’s removal of aggregate theft laws—which allowed prosecutors to charge repeat offenders with felonies—resulted in brazen incidents where the same individuals would steal without consequences.

Calling the current approach a one-size-fits-all model—where any thefts less than $950 are misdemeanors that typically do not result in arrest—that is failing the public, Mr. Villapudua’s bill aims to restore prosecutors’ right to aggregate charges into felonies.

“Our current policies fail to hold repeat offenders accountable, as long as they remain under the $950 threshold in any given offense,” he told The Epoch Times. “Focusing on the aggregation of theft over time, as well as removing the cookie-cutter model of enforcement so we may consider differentiating circumstances, will provide more proportional and appropriate punishments on offenders.”

One law enforcement official told legislators in December that change is needed.

“When we see the same people committing the same crime … it suggests the system is broken,” Alexander Gammelgard, Grass Valley Police chief and president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said during the first meeting of the Assembly’s newly formed retail theft committee.

Judicial discretion and diversion options that allow for rehabilitative program placement instead of jail are also important variables, according to the bill.

Additionally, the measure seeks to restore power to the Legislature regarding retail theft crime by creating a “balanced judicial framework” that allows for “evaluation and adaptation”—with language to be added in the coming weeks once stakeholders and lawmakers are consulted, he said.

Acknowledging the complex nature of the problem, the assemblyman said he is willing to work with interested parties to find solutions to improve public safety and reduce crime.

“Much like many of the criminal justice challenges we face, we need a multifaceted approach to rein in the onslaught of retail theft across California,” Mr. Villapudua said in the press release. “I am committed to addressing this in a comprehensive and equitable manner by introducing targeted policy reforms for a safer and more just society.”

Retailers across the state are pleading with the Legislature for assistance, with spokespersons telling commissioners at the retail theft hearing in December that violent encounters have increased, and thefts are negatively impacting their businesses.

With committee members noting the significance of the meeting occurring during the winter break the week before Christmas and suggesting the issue is a priority for lawmakers, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) also attended the hearing.

“It’s important that we preserve our successful criminal justice reforms,” Mr. Rivas said during the meeting. “But at the same time, we need to ensure that we are delivering solutions to businesses and consumers.”

Once formally introduced, the new retail theft bill will face committee assignments yet to be determined by the Assembly’s rules committee.