District Attorney of El Dorado County Vern Pierson said that while property crimes, including shoplifting, are illegal, state laws such as Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 allow many criminal activities to go undeterred.
Passed by voters in 2014, Prop. 47 downgraded certain thefts and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Its most well-known statute raised the minimum amount of stolen goods from $400 to $950 for a theft case to be classified as a felony, which critics consider to be the main cause of a rise in petty theft across the state.
It also allows felons currently serving prison terms to petition for resentencing under the new classifications. Those who have already served their terms can also have their past convictions reclassified as misdemeanors.
“The practical reality is that most retailers have learned if they call law enforcement for a theft of less than $950, either law enforcement will not respond, or if they respond at most, what they will do is issue a citation [for court appearance],” Pierson said.
He noted that most theft suspects don’t show up in court, for which there are little or no consequences.
As such, most retailers in California have a policy that prevents their employees from reporting low-level property crimes, which is why the data for such incidents may be inaccurate, according to Pierson. Some stores stop reporting petty theft altogether because police “can’t do much.”
A store can be sued by an attempted robbery suspect who’s physically confronted by its employees.
“We’re a very litigious society here in California, and the stores and their insurance carriers really are afraid of being sued for trying to stop a crime that has little or no consequence,” he said.