Typically, consumers think of businesses in two categories — small/mom-and-pop shops and large/big box retailers. And while those classifications are not necessarily incorrect, they leave a large grey area in between.
While California defines a “small business” as one with under 500 employees — which encompasses 90 percent of US businesses — when the media talks about small businesses they are typically referring to local, family-owned (aka, “mom-and-pop”) shops, which are more accurately termed “micro businesses” and which have fewer than ten employees.
These businesses are under attack — serial attack.
Prop. 47’s passage in 2014 raised the dollar threshold for theft from $450 to $950 per location, also making it a misdemeanor instead of a felony. As a result, there has been an explosion of retail theft, but a legal inability for law enforcement to effectively deal with or prosecute it.
Statistically speaking, the average micro business makes less than $100,000 a year in annual sales, not accounting for business expenses and taxes. Now, if an estimated $78 worth of property is stolen every second in California — as the Department of Justice maintains — then simple math tells us these family businesses are in dire straits.
It’s no wonder so many of these local businesses have reached out to the Keep California Safe campaign — though our social media channels and networks — to share their stories of how increased retail theft since Prop. 47 is destroying their businesses and/or forcing them to close their doors completely.
While micro businesses are the most vulnerable, larger retailers are most certainly seeing more than their fair share of theft — which has progressed from more than just shoplifting. Cities like Vacaville, with their renowned outlets and shopping centers, tend to be perfect targets for organized retail crime rings. It’s not uncommon for serial thieves to converge on a store and walk out with $950 worth of stuff between two to four people. Thieves know the law. They bring calculators to make sure they’ve worked their way up to, but not over, the Prop. 47-created $950 limit.
But who’s paying the price? Certainly not the thieves, who are seen in countless store videos simply walking out the front door with arm or cartloads of stolen goods. It’s too dangerous for store personnel to stop them, and the law won’t allow for their arrest anyway.
Many businesses — faced with significant theft losses — are being forced to make the tough choice between raising prices on their already financially strapped customers or closing their doors. So now law-abiding Californians are not only seeing their cost of living increase at unsettling rates, but also feeling less safe (and less comfortable) in stores as criminals get more and more bold. Tragically, a Sacramento mini-mart owner was recently killed by a thief after attempting to stop him from allegedly stealing beer.
The Keep California Safe (KCS) initiative, which will appear on the November 2020 ballot, is designed to help fix this problem. While it will not repeal Prop. 47, it revises the theft threshold by giving the courts the authority to charge a misdemeanor or a felony for serial theft when a person has been convicted twice for stealing up to $950 and arrested a third time for stealing at a value of at least $250. We’ve seen what a lack of consequences brings. By restoring consequences for serial theft, we can stem the tide and restore public confidence and safety.