California Cracks Down on Serial Retail Theft

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Apr 20, 2024

Retail theft is on the rise, and California is one state that is looking to crack down on this societal issue.

The state is looking to introduce new legislation that would see retail workers remain safe and hopes to see a decrease in the popular targeted crime. 

San Francisco and Oakland Are Most Affected by Retail Theft

AXIOS San Francisco has reported that San Francisco and Oakland are the areas most affected by retail theft.

A person dressed in black and wearing black gloves coming up behind a person. They are reaching into their purse and trying to grab their wallet.

Source: Freepik/Freepik

The rise in retail theft tends to be in large metro areas, as these areas often have more stock available for thieves to steal. 


Walgreens Have Closed Several Stores

Many assume that store chains will be unaffected by shoplifters, as they can cover the costs of the stolen products.

The outside of a Walgreens at night. The signs inside the building are lit up, and a single silver car is parked outside.

Source: Anthony92931/Wikimedia Commons

However, AP News reported in 2021 that Walgreens had to close five of its San Francisco stores and had closed 10 since the beginning of 2019. 

Shoplifting Deterrents Drive Sales Down

Despite stores putting shoplifting deterrents in place, this seems to have the opposite effect.

A person holding a knife with a plastic security measure and a yellow bar code to prevent shoplifters.

Source: @Wholesalekarma/X

AXIOS reports that stores have noticed a drop in sales from 15-25%. It seems that store owners have a choice between putting up deterrents and losing sales or not putting up deterrents and encouraging shoplifters. 

Deterrents Are an Inconvenience to Shoppers

The whole point of shoplifting deterrents is that they become an inconvenience to shoplifters and encourage them not to commit the crime in the first place.

Cans of deodorant in a shop inside glass cases.

Source: @cryptohodlgroup/X

However, the deterrents have become an inconvenience to shoppers because they have to find an employee to open the case for them to get the items they need, wasting their time and making them want to shop elsewhere or online.

Shoplifting Costs Stores Billions

It can be easy to believe that shoplifting some bananas or other small items might just cost the store the amount the item was on sale for, but it’s a lot more than that.

A pile of $100 bills.

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The National Retail Federation reports that shoplifting and organized retail crime cost retailers around $700,000 per $1 billion in sales annually. 


Groups Are Stealing Thousands at a Time

It’s no longer just individuals stealing from stores, as groups are coming in and have made it into an organized crime.

A group of people stealing clothes from a store. They are running towards the doors. One person is wearing a green hoodie, and the other is wearing a white top.

Source: @allreactionvidz/X

Shoplifters are even stealing up to tens of thousands of dollars worth of items each time, a sharp increase compared to what it was before.


Organized Crime Was Diminishing the Public’s Confidence

Californian lawmakers noticed that the increased crime, especially regarding organized retail crime, was putting the public’s confidence in law and order into doubt.

Some yellow police tape that says “Do not cross police” in black capital letters.

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The Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair reported that Speaker Robert Riva said they hope the new package will restore the public’s confidence in law and order and create a more just system. 


California Announced a Bipartisan Package

In April 2024, the California government announced the bipartisan package, which is there to put stiffer penalties on those who shoplift.

The Californian Government is making the announcement of the Bipartisan Package. A man stands behind a lectern that says “Californians together against retail crime” on the front. A group of men and women in suits stands behind him.

Source: California Department of Justice/YouTube

This legislation aims to prevent serial shoplifters from recommitting the offense and to impose serious sanctions on those who do. 


The Property Crime Threshold Has Been Lowered

AXIOS San Francisco reports that the current property crime threshold is $100,000.

A pile of $100 bills.

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This threshold will now be changed to $50,000, at which point criminals will be given extended jail time. A restraining order will also be issued to those who commit theft, vandalism, or battery against an employee. 


There Will Be Just One Theft Case

Depending on location, some criminals will commit the same crime in different areas, leading to multiple court cases for the same crime.

The inside of a courtroom. There is a red curtain with a circular sign in the center. Most of the room contains brown wood, including the defendant's stand.

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The new laws will add multiple theft charges to the same case in one court case and increase the use of diversion and rehabilitative programs. 


The Laws Will Keep the Public and Retail Workers Safe

These new laws aim to help keep the public and retail workers safe from harm.

A retail worker serving a customer. The worker is wearing an apron and holding a product the customer wants to buy. Shelves are behind the worker full of products.

Source: Freepik/Freepik

It is also hoped that the tougher laws on committing these offenses will deter criminals from committing them in the first place.