Written by The Business Journal Staff
Valley business owners say they are seeing a dramatic increase in shoplifting and other petty crimes — a disturbing trend many view as an unintended consequence of Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure that de-criminalized so-called “minor offenses” to reduce stress on overloaded Golden State courts and jails.
Many merchants — and Valley law enforcement officials — believe Prop 47 has emboldened some habitual criminals. At several Valley big box stores recently, shoplifters have loaded up shopping carts and then brazenly rolled them right out of the store.
Thieves know that because of Prop 47, if the goods they steal are worth less than $950, even if they’re caught, they’ll just get a slap on the wrist rather than serious penalties and jail time, frustrated Valley law enforcement officials say.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said her office continues to deal with the fallout created by the ballot measure. “Everyone got bamboozled with Prop 47,” Smittcamp told an audience of business leaders after the initiative was approved.
The unexpected challenges for business owners — and law enforcement — created by Prop 47 infuriates Assemblyman Jim Patterson, who represents the Valley’s 23rd Assembly District.
“Since Proposition 47 was approved, major retailers say shoplifting has gone up by 15 to 50 percent. Unfortunately, the will to fix this problem doesn’t exist in Sacramento,” Patterson said this week.
In 2015, nine separate bills meant to close Prop 47 loopholes were all killed in the state house. Earlier this spring, Patterson introduced his own bill, AB 2369, to allow a judge to dole out harsher sentences to those convicted of repeat offenses within a certain time period.
But AB 2369 also died in committee hearings.
“The left-leaning politicians in control of California have more sympathy for criminals that they have for the store clerk who is threatened with a box cutter when she tries to stop a thief,” Patterson said, referring to one brazen theft that happened in May at a Fresno Circle K store.
Patterson blames Assembly Democrats for not doing more to protect businesses — and California consumers —from the negative repercussions of Prop 47. “They have no concern for business owners large and small who are losing revenue,” he said. “They don’t care about shoppers who pay higher prices to make up for that lost revenue.”
Patterson, who served as Fresno’s mayor between 1993 and 2001, said “fixing the root cause of the spike in crime we are seeing means getting serious about changing Proposition 47.”
In recent weeks in Sacramento, state lawmakers appear to be paying more attention to the connection between spiking crime rates and Prop 47.
Citing a new bill recently introduced by Assemblymember Melissa Melendez (R-Murrieta) that seeks to make theft of any firearm, regardless of its value, a felony, Patterson points out that Assembly Democrats have also submitted a similar bill, which he characterized as “a feeble attempt to show they’re not totally tone deaf.”
Meanwhile, according to the California Police Chiefs Association, in 2016, property crime is up 15.25 percent in California cities with populations above 100,000 and the Golden State is seeing the largest year-over-year increase in property crimes “since at least 1960.”
Patterson puts the blame squarely on Prop 47 — and his fellow lawmakers. “The hardworking people who live in this state are being tossed aside by a legislature that has refused to take the initiative to make needed changes to a dangerous law,” he said.