Gov. Newsom Boosts Efforts to Combat Organized Retail Theft in California

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A profile view of Gavin Newsom standing outside looking away at the camera. There is nobody near him.
Gov. Gavin Newsom prepares to speak during a press conference about COVID-19 vaccinations and housing for unhoused veterans on Nov. 10, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

In response to recent headline-grabbing smash-and-grab robberies, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said he will seek more than $300 million in state funding over three years to boost law enforcement efforts to combat retail theft.

“The issue of crime and violence is top of mind all throughout not only the state of California but across the United States, highlighted recently by some high-profile retail theft operations,” Newsom said.

He added that “these organized retail mobs ... [have] a profound impact on our feelings of safety here in this state, this region and, as I note, this country.”

Newsom proposed giving $255 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies to put more police at stores to deter organized retail crime over the next three years.

An additional $30 million over three years in the proposed budget he sends to lawmakers next month would go to county district attorneys to support prosecutions of retail and auto-theft-related crimes.

Another $18 million over three years would go to create a new “organized theft special unit” under the state attorney general, with investigators and prosecutors dedicated to pursuing organized crime ringleaders.

Retailers in California and cities elsewhere around the U.S., including Chicago and Minneapolis, recently have been the targets of large-scale thefts wherein groups of people show up for mass shoplifting events or to enter stores and smash and grab from display cases.

Solo shoplifters and retail thieves also have been a growing problem for California retailers, who have said people face little if any consequences after they are caught.


Earlier this month, Newsom criticized local prosecutors for not doing enough to crack down on people by using existing state laws.

He defended a voter-approved 2014 initiative that reduced certain thefts from felonies to misdemeanors, though prosecutors said it left them without enough legal tools.

Newsom on Friday proposed another $20 million to aid small businesses victimized by smash-and-grab robberies.

He also plans to turn an existing retail theft task force into a permanent “smash-and-grab enforcement unit.”

Working under the task force, California Highway Patrol “enforcement fleets” would coordinate with local law enforcement departments to target organized retail and auto burglaries in the Bay Area, Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego regions.

Auto burglaries had become a particularly perplexing problem in the Bay Area, driving tourists away from some high-crime areas.

Newsom said he will also work with state lawmakers to improve highway camera technology to help solve crimes, and correspondingly boost highway patrols “based on real-time data.”

He emphasized that long-term crime rates in California have come down, but said California and other U.S. states have experienced a recent upswing in organized retail theft and violent crimes, including those involving firearms.

Homicides in California jumped 31% last year, while politically progressive Oakland recently reversed course on police defunding due to a surge in homicides and gun violence. And on Friday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency to confront crime in the Tenderloin.

The proposal to combat retail theft was hailed by the leaders of the California Retailers Association and California Chamber of Commerce.

“Californians have had enough,” said Jennifer Barrera, chamber president and CEO.

Newsom was joined by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley — who warned that retail thieves “are terrorizing our communities” — and by Attorney General Rob Bonta, who was appointed by Newsom to the post to fill a vacancy.

Both Newsom and Bonta are Democrats seeking reelection next year and Republicans already are making crime a campaign issue.

Newsom earlier this week pledged that his January budget will propose at least $100 million in local grants to remove garbage and beautify public spaces associated with homelessness, another important campaign theme.

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The proposed spending to combat crime and clean up neighborhoods represent fractions of the state’s annual operating budget, which this year exceeds $260 billion and is projected to have an at least $31 billion surplus next year.

State Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk said Democrats “are finally waking up” to “soft-on-crime policies” that he said have “turned this once-majestic state into a sanctuary for criminals.”

While opponents believe Democrats are vulnerable on these issues, Newsom in September easily prevailed over an effort to recall him in midterm.

Rescue California, one of the groups that promoted the failed recall, on Thursday called on Newsom to call a special legislative session to target smash-and-grab thefts that the group said are “plaguing California.” Members also urged Newsom to support rescinding the 2014 ballot measure that eased criminal penalties for theft and drug crimes.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat who championed easing lengthy criminal punishments, said in a television interview that there needs to be a carrot-and-stick approach that includes some punishment for lower-level crimes.

Newsom proposed what he called the “largest gun buyback program in America” — $25 million for matching grants to local law enforcement agencies to collect guns and increase awareness of gun violence.

He also promised more but unspecified additional funding for California’s Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.

He reiterated the plan he announced last weekend to allow private citizens to sue those who make, sell or distribute illegal assault weapons and untraceable “ghost guns,” ghost gun kits or parts. Texas uses a similar method to try to restrict abortions.

“If a law [in Texas] is going to be used to put women’s lives at risk, we will use that law to protect people’s lives,” Newsom said.

Finally, Newsom proposed $20 million to support efforts by the California National Guard to fight the importation of illegal drugs — particularly fentanyl flowing into the state from Mexico — by targeting transnational criminal organizations.

Newsom acknowledged that law enforcement was only part of the solution.

“I want folks to know that the solution to all these problems is not just a law-enforcement-only approach, but we would be naive to suggest it excludes law enforcement.” Newsom said.

Newsom will submit his proposal to the Legislature next month.

KQED’s Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman contributed reporting to this post.