Jonathan Kraut | The Christmas Shoplifting Seasons Expand to Year-Round

Jonathan Kraut

In 2022 there were 6,585 shoplifting incidents reported by the Los Angeles Police Department. In 2023 there were 11,945 reports of shoplifting in L.A. Flash mob and organized retail theft dramatically increased last year as well. 

The recently available LAPD report on shoplifting and retail theft is not a surprise. With an increase of shoplifting in 2023 crimes by 81% over 2022, we can now say that the shoplifting season, typically at its height just before Christmas, is now extended to year-round. 

California Penal Code section 490.4 is used to prosecute stolen merchandise that is worth more than $950 in value and is charged as a felony. When criminal charges are classified as misdemeanors, typically police just issue a citation and suspects are immediately released. 

District Attorney George Gascón’s guidance is to immediately let go those being accused of misdemeanors without booking and without bail. Of course, this encourages repeat offenses, as there seems no consequence to misconduct. 

Unfortunately, often local prosecutors have been directed to consider only value of goods stolen by each individual and ignore the collective nature of the crime.  

Take flash mob retail theft, for example. 

Rather than charge each participant with felony conspiracy and under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law for being part of a criminal organization, our law enforcement agencies have been instructed to catch and release each suspect as committing a misdemeanor in that each individual likely did not meet the $950 threshold.  

This policy of downplaying criminal acts has nurtured and encouraged criminal conduct. 

With no true penalties for retail theft or participation in organized crime, those leaning toward criminal conduct are encouraged to take advantage of our lack of interest in issuing true punishment. 

Last September Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s largest single investment of over $267 million earmarked to combat organized retail crime. Rather than prosecute as felonies and hold perpetrators accountable under the full extent of the law, the failed policies that perpetuate ineffective deterrence remain unchanged and trying to catch criminals after the fact will not deter new criminal activity. 

Gov. Newsom the other day announced he is supporting a new state bill to “enhance” some sentencing for commercial retail theft. The laws to fully prosecute are already on the books. This proposed bill in fact downgrades to power of the prosecution and will result in no meaningful reduction of new crime. 

This recent interest in Sacramento related to tightening up the rules and increasing penalties is just window dressing. 

Another example of making excuses for criminal conduct is Newsom’s resistance to undoing restrictions on conducting criminal background checks. 

My investigations firm has easily conducted over 1 million criminal background checks over the last 25 years. Criminal records are identified by name and date of birth. About two years ago, a federal judge determined that showing date of birth on the criminal public access portal unlawfully discloses private information.  

But now, even if we already have the date of birth, i.e. confidential information, we are unable to determine if the date of birth matches a case filed. Our court clerks, who use a different database than the public system, are nevertheless forbidden to help identify those convicted. 

While my agents can go to one of 38 L.A. County Superior Court locations where a case was filed to look at the physical file and confirm the date of birth in person, researching just one case may take half a day. All this effort is needed instead of hearing a simple “yes” or “no” from a court clerk. 

This erroneous interpretation of the judge’s order means you are unable to know if someone was convicted of a crime without great cost and delay. 

In other words, if someone’s history indicates that they embezzle, use drugs, or could kill you or a loved one, you are not supposed to know. 

Newsom refused to sign a bill that changes the law to allow for date of birth verification for background checks. 

Retail theft and preventing background screening are but two of many indicators that there is lack of willingness to hold criminals accountable. 

It takes political will take put an end to crime. Despite our frustration with dramatic increases in flash mob and retail theft and obstructing access to information that could save lives, many of our representatives clearly do not possess this will. 

Our politicians seem not to sense our political will. We need to select action over rhetoric. That is why our vote always matters, not just this March 5, but in every election. 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the CFO of an accredited acting conservatory, former college professor and dean, is a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations. 

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