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California governor calls for legislation cracking down on theft

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(The Center Square) – California governor Gavin Newsom called for legislation cracking down on property crime as perceptions that theft is out of control continue to escalate. Drawing support from conservative and progressive leaders across the state, the Newsom-backed framework would significantly increase means of securing convictions and longer sentencing for serial thieves and major sellers of stolen goods.

“Building on California’s existing laws and record public safety investments, I’m calling for new legislation to expand criminal penalties for those profiting on retail theft and auto burglaries,” said Newsom in a public statement.”

According to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll from 2022, 51% of voters disapprove of Newsom’s performance on crime and public safety issues, up from 35% in 2020. The most recent IGS poll, which did not include crime and public safety, found more Californians disapprove of Newsom’s performance overall (49%) than approve (44%), a reversal of earlier polls driven by declines in approval among political moderates and registered voters without a party affiliation.

The framework would create a new crime for those who engage in serial theft to resell, and those who resell stolen property, and allow police to arrest suspects of retail theft even if they did not witness the crime in progress. Newsom also called for clarification that the value of multiple thefts can be combined to meet the state’s $950 theft threshold for felony charges, a change that Republicans introduced in the legislature but failed without Democratic support. Newsom also proposed creating new penalties for auto burglary, building upon legislation introduced recently by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D–San Francisco, to end a loophole preventing criminals from being prosecuted if car owners are not able to prove the car door was locked during the burglary, which currently allows burglars who break car windows to open vehicle locks to avoid conviction.

“California is safer when law enforcement and prosecutors have more tools to arrest suspects and hold them accountable,” said President of the California State Sheriffs’ Association Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, a Republican, in a public statement. “This framework will close loopholes criminals have exploited and increase felony penalties for smash and grabs, retail theft, and auto burglaries.”

While reported crime is decreasing, anecdotal evidence suggests much crime is simply going unreported and that some corporate headquarters are even preventing local stores from requesting police assistance.

Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper, a former Democratic assemblymember, said that when local Walgreens and Target stores asked for his department’s help stopping repeat thieves, corporate headquarters stepped in and stymied his operations.

In response to the perception that crime is worsening, California Republicans requested that the state’s Little Hoover Hoover Commission, an independent watchdog agency, study retail theft and how Proposition 47, which largely decriminalized drug use and reduces theft under $950, even for serial offenders, to a misdemeanor, impacts retail theft, and recommend policy solutions. Notably, Newsom’s framework does not mention Proposition 47.

“You cannot effectively address property crime without reforming Prop 47 and at least having the threat of real accountability for thieves,” Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher, R–Yuba City, said in a public statement. “Cite and release doesn’t work.”

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