Coalition to submit 900,000 signatures to put tough-on-crime initiative on California ballot

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A coalition backed by retailers like Walmart and Target announced Thursday it has collected enough signatures…

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A coalition backed by retailers like Walmart and Target announced Thursday it has collected enough signatures to put a ballot measure before California voters this November to enhance criminal penalties for shoplifting and drug dealing.

Californians for Safer Communities, a bipartisan group made up of law enforcement, elected officials and businesses, said it has collected more than 900,000 signatures in support of the measure to roll back parts of Proposition 47. The progressive ballot measure approved by 60% of state voters in 2014 reduced certain theft and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors to help address overcrowding in jails.

In recent years, Proposition 47 has become the focus of critics who say California is too lax on crime. Videos of large-scale thefts, in which groups of individuals brazenly rush into stores and take goods in plain sight, have often gone viral. The California Retailers Association said it’s challenging to quantify the issue in California because many stores don’t share their data.

Crime data shows the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles saw a steady increase in shoplifting between 2021 and 2022, according to a study by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California. Across the state, shoplifting rates rose during the same time period but were still lower than the pre-pandemic levels in 2019, while commercial burglaries and robberies have become more prevalent in urban counties, the study says.

The ballot measure would create harsher penalties for repeat shoplifters and fentanyl dealers. Shoplifters would be charged with a felony, regardless of the amount stolen, if they have at least two prior theft convictions. It also would create a new drug court treatment program for those with multiple drug possession convictions, among other things. More than 800 people died from fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco last year, a record for the city.

California’s approach to crime is poised to be a major political issue in November’s election. Beyond the ballot measure, Democratic San Francisco Mayor London Breed faces a tough reelection bid against competitors who say she’s allowed the city to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price faces a recall election, and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón faces a challenger who has criticized his progressive approach to crime and punishment.

Top Democratic state leaders, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have repeatedly shut down calls to repeal Proposition 47. Newsom argued California already has tools to sufficiently go after criminals and urged lawmakers to bolster existing laws and go after motor vehicle thefts and resellers of stolen merchandise. Lawmakers have introduced a slew of bills aiming to tackle retail theft and online resellers.

The ballot measure campaign, which has raised at least $5.4 million as of early April, is mostly funded by large retailers. It has received $2.5 million from Walmart, $1 million from Home Depot and $500,000 from Target. The measure also has support from district attorneys and more than 30 local elected officials — including Breed and San Jose’s Democratic mayor.

Lana Negrete, vice mayor of Santa Monica and a business owner, said she’s considering closing down her family’s two music stores in the area after nine smash-and-grabs in the last four years. Negrete, a Democrat, said she voted for Proposition 47 and supported its progressive approach, but the measure has allowed for some criminals to skirt punishments while businesses are hurting.

“Nobody’s being held accountable,” Negrete said. “We’ve been robbed by the same person more than once, and that person, under the current structure and criminal justice system now, is walking the streets free.”

Her 52-year-old family business has lost more than $300,000 in merchandise loss and building repairs in the last few years, Negrete said. Some have advised Negrete start hiring armed security.

“We teach music lessons to children, I don’t need to have a guard in front of my store,” she said. “That’s not how it was when we started this business, and it’s sad to see it go that way.”

County and state officials must now verify the signatures before the measure is officially placed on the ballot. The ballot measure campaign needs at least 546,651 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

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