Monday, April 22, 2024






        Ask almost any police chief the reasons behind the last year’s rash of well-organized and orchestrated “smash-and-grab” robberies around California and chances are they will say it’s largely because of the 2014 Proposition 47.


        Most would cite a need to change or reverse Prop. 47’s raise in the minimum theft value considered a felony to $950, or at least suggest a lower limit.


        But that “solution” ignores the reality that police don’t like dealing with the trivial. Set the limit too low and large numbers of shoplifters could get off scot-free, with not even a misdemeanor conviction because many police departments won’t fool around with “minor” crimes.


        This could create an even larger cadre of thieves than now plagues California stores of many types.


        But at last sound thinking on how to fix Prop. 47’s flaws has arrived. It comes from legislators, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the sponsors of a new initiative that seems sure to qualify for the fall ballot.


        So how to speed their useful ideas into law? The answer is for the business and consumer leaders behind the initiative to deal with Newsom and the Legislature soon, then have Sacramento make laws of what they all agree on.


This is possible under a little-used decade-old law allowing initiative sponsors to pull their measures from the ballot if they reach agreements with lawmakers.


Here’s where things stand: Newsom notes that many other states have far higher felony-theft thresholds than Prop. 47’s $950. But most of them prosecute repeat offenders as felons. Texas, for one, has a $2,500 threshold.


        So, proposes Newsom, don’t lower the felony theft standard, set partly to spare police from dealing with mere nuisances, and also to avoid piling criminal records onto desperately poor persons driven to steal for survival.


        Newsom wants to let addition solve the problem and cut repeat thievery.


        “We can do it without (changing) Prop. 47,” he said in a budget message. “I want people to know the (current level of theft) is unacceptable. Folks need to be held to account.”


        His idea: When thieves whose take is below $950 are caught, before releasing them record how much they stole. If they steal again, add the amounts. When they reach a new threshold level, it becomes a felony. Newsom suggests $2,500.


        The ballot measure approaches this slightly differently, allowing felony prosecution for low-value theft if the perpetrator has two prior drug or theft convictions. California could use both tactics.


Some state legislators also favor restraining orders on low-value thieves, thus increasing penalties for repeaters.


        All these tactics make sense, and California can have them all. There’s no need for rivalry among interests wanting to solve the same problem.


Almost unbelievably, it’s taken 10 years to come up potential changes like these. Why not aggregate what thieves take, rather than allowing them to shoplift $949 in goods as often as they like without becoming felons? It’s also sensible to target repeat offenders.


        Plus, Newsom called for expanded criminal penalties on those profiting from retail theft and auto burglaries.


The state has already begun cracking down on Internet sites where stolen goods are fenced, and in 2023 spent more than $250 million to increase arrests for organized smash-and-grab raids. Dozens of thieves have been caught.


        Kevin McCarty, a candidate for Sacramento mayor who now chairs the state Assembly’s public safety committee, has said he likes Newsom’s ideas but made no promises about specifics his committee might advance.


        It’s up to voters to let their elected officials know this kind of ho-hum, it-can-wait attitude won’t do when myriad stores including prominent brands from Nordstrom to Walgreens to 99 Cents Only have closed partly because of thievery.


        The sooner legislators and initiative sponsors meet and consolidate their ideas, the sooner they can become law. Sponsors could then take the proposed measure off the ballot, letting new laws put most of the currently proposed changes into effect sooner. That’s the quickest way to clean up what voters passed in 2014.


        One thing for sure: Something serious has to change or the rash of smash-and-grabs will not stop. No merchant or store will feel safe again until it does.


Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

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