Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), at the podium, said his legislation, AB 1802, would require the CHP and the California Department of Justice to create regional property crimes task forces to assist local law enforcement with resources to fight retail theft. (Antonio Ray Harvey/CBM)

Assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) last week added their names to a growing list of California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) members who have introduced legislation aimed at addressing the state’s retail theft problem.

Jones-Sawyer and McCarty appeared with Attorney General Rob Bonta, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, legislative colleagues, district attorneys, business leaders, and law enforcement personnel to introduce seven bipartisan bills at the Capitol Annex Swing Space on April 9.

“The Assembly is moving forward with a comprehensive, balanced, and bipartisan legislative package that seeks to strengthen public safety, and protect shoppers, and business owners across California,” Rivas said.

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Jones-Sawyers introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 1802 – the Retail Crime Force Sunset Extension. The bill would eliminate the expiration date on another Jones-Sawyer bill, AB 1065, which was passed in 2018. AB 1802 would require the California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Justice to create regional property crimes task forces to assist local law enforcement with resources to fight retail theft in affected parts of the state.

Currently, the CHP property crime task force has conducted 1,225 investigations, made over 1,800 arrests, and recovered almost a half million items of stolen merchandise valued at more than $21 million in areas across California, according to information provided Jones-Sawyer’s office.

“Retail theft is not a new problem in California, and, in fact, it’s been a troubling and complex issue that I have worked hard to address during all of my time in the Assembly,” Jones-Sawyer said. “AB 1065 was designed specifically to target organized crime rings.”

The other bills included in the package are AB 2943 (California Retail Theft Reduction Act), authored by Assemblymember Rick Zbur (DHollywood); AB 1972 (Organized Retail Theft: Cargo), Assemblymember Juan Alanis (R-Modesto); AB 1779 (Theft: Jurisdiction), Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto); AB 1960  (Sentencing Enhancement: Property Loss), Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria (D-Merced); and AB 1794 (Retail Theft Repeat Offender Curtailment), Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).

McCarty is the chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. His AB 1794 aims to curtail activities by repeat offenders. It will also streamline the process of reporting shoplifting incidents directly to prosecutors through a program called, “CAL Fast Pass.”

CAL Fast pass would help retailers speed up investigations against serial offenders and aids in “reducing the financial strain and operational disruptions” caused by retail theft, the bill states.

The new package of bills arrives at a time when California-based 99 Cents Only stores announced on April 4 that it would shutter all 371 of its locations across Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas. About 14,000 employees will lose their jobs.

The company cited “shifting consumer demand,” inflation, and “high levels” of theft are the reasons behind its decision to close stores, according to 99 Cents Only CEO Mike Simoncic. McCarty’s bill will encourage retailers to deal directly with District Attorneys to handle thieves who frequent retail stores on more than one occasion.

“The Fast Pass program allows retailers to go directly to District Attorneys without police involvement to bring swift action and accountability,” McCarty said.

Bonta said it is critical that leaders listen to Californians as they make decisions about public safety.

“What they’re saying, what they’re worried about, what they’re scared of, they’re anxious, and they’re angry about. They want change. They want action. This (retail crime) package is change. This is action and these are solutions,” the Attorney General said.

And speaking to those running organized retail crime schemes, Bonta said, “If you ransack our stores, attack our people, and harm our communities, we’ll come for you.”