Shoplifting Concerns in California

Shoplifting reports in California have increased in recent months. Retailers and law enforcement officials alike are wondering: Is Proposition 47 to blame?

The ballot measure, which was approved by California voters in November 2014, reduced the penalty for shoplifting merchandise valued at less than $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor. The ballot measure also lessened punishments for other crimes as well, including fraud, petty theft, and possession of small amounts of drugs.

According to researchers from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the initiative resulted in an immediate drop in arrests, warrants, convictions and average jail sentences. But the fact that thieves aren’t facing the threat of punishment might mean that shoplifting has increased as a result.

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Don Thompson reports for the Associated Press that large retailers in California claim to have seen a nearly 15 percent increase in shoplifting since voters approved Proposition 47. There is speculation that criminals have developed an awareness of the reduced penalties and have begun calculated efforts to steal only merchandise worth less than $950.

However, the PPIC researchers caution that it is too soon to assess the effects of Prop 47 in full. A March 2016 report points out that “a key component of Prop 47—the reinvestment of state correctional savings in behavior health treatments and other prevention programs—has not yet been realized.” Time will tell if the initiative truly contributes to improving California’s criminal justice reform efforts.

For an in-depth examination of the effects of Prop 47, check out “Welcome to California: A Shoplifter’s Paradise?” by Bill Turner, LPC.

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