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12.9.6: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Proposition 47

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    by Alonso Munoz


    Imagine you are shopping at your favorite department store, and the next thing you know is that you are being pushed by a mob of shoplifters trying to steal products. Now, you have no what to do but just stand there and watch these ruthless individuals shoplift a store. But you should realize that you are not the only one who has gone through this; thousands of bystanders have been caught in these situations. Shoplifting has increased, and California is doing nothing about it. We need to evaluate the effectiveness of California Proposition 47 because it has created a threat to society, the economy, and communities. In the past few years, "the statewide commercial robbery was 53 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2022, compared to 210 and 231 for reported shoplifting and commercial burglary incidents. However, the data shows that the commercial robbery rate has increased by 13.3% since 2019, with an uptick of 9.1% in 2022" (Retail Theft and Roberry Have Risen Across California).

    Current Policies

    A current policy that California has in place is Proposition 47, which "Made nonviolent property crimes, where the value does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors instead" (LA County Public Defenders Office). In simpler terms, Prop 47 made property crimes under 950 dollars from a felony to a misdemeanor. This proposition came with many weaknesses. A weakness is that offenders who are caught shoplifting receive a slap on the wrist. What I mean is that shoplifters who are arrested only get charged with a misdemeanor, which translates to "a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and a county jail term of 1 year or less" (The Superior Court of California, County of San Joaquin). This lenient punishment allows offenders to continue shoplifting stores because the punishment is not frightening. Many people fear breaking the law because they believe the severe penalty repels theft. With this slap on the wrist that an offender may receive, it is essential to mention that this lenient punishment would lead to a weaker justice system. This is because the justice system is not doing its job correctly sentencing offenders, which means that these same offenders may return to the streets and continue being a threat to society.

    On this note, let me ask, What is causing the increase in shoplifting? Some of you may think that the economic struggle some are going through is causing this. You may be right because, since the COVID-19 pandemic, necessities such as food and clothing have increased a whopping "9.9 percent" (USDA). With increases in food prices, many families have been left to shoplift to feed themselves or clothe themselves. However, economic struggles are a reason for increased shoplifting; Proposition plays a more significant role in increasing shoplifting across California. For example, ever since the passing of Proposition 47 by California voters back in 2014, "Large retailers including Safeway, Target, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies say shoplifting increased at least 15 percent, and in some cases, doubled since voters approved Proposition 47, And according to the Los Angeles Police Department it jumped by a quarter in the first year" (CBS). This shows that instead of lowering the crime rate, Prop 47 has increased crime. The reason for this is that Prop 47 does not allow prosecutors to charge a thief with a felony if the item they stole is less than 950 dollars. If prosecutors can't do their jobs, the justice system will weaken and lead to an increase in violent and nonviolent crimes.

    But out of all the weaknesses mentioned, the most significant disadvantage is that it prevents communities from accessing essentials for survival. Due to the dramatic increase in shoplifting, many stores such as Walmart and Target are closing stores in many states because shoplifting has gotten out of hand, and they have ultimately decided to close their doors in selected states. With these closings of stores, communities are left without the essentials to survive, such as food, medicine, and clothing. Many Americans depend on these retailers to provide for themselves and their families; they cannot provide for themselves without access. It also leaves many Americans without access to medications, such as prescriptions or cold and flu medicine, they may need to treat their illnesses. Americans do not deserve to pay the price for the actions of others.

    Now, proposition 47 does contain a few strengths. One of the strengths is that it lowers jail populations; according to the Public Policy Institute of California, "This change was largely driven by the decline in jail contact among those booked for Prop 47 offenses. In the year before Prop 47, 120,000 individuals were booked into jail for Prop 47 offenses; in the year after, this number declined to 77,300 (a decline of 35.6%)." This example shows that Prop 47 is lowering the jail population by nearly 4o%, meaning fewer people must interact with and enter the justice system. Along with decreasing the jail population in California, Proposition 47 also saves California taxpayers millions of dollars and is being used for other state-funded programs. For example, the Californians for Justice and Safety states, "Sixty-five percent of Proposition 47 savings, about $200 million, is being spent on mental health, substance-use treatment, diversion, and housing programs for people who have been arrested, charged, or convicted of crimes". This example shows that Prop 47 saves taxpayers about 200 million dollars allocated to local community programs to help those recently incarcerated. I believe that reallocating the money from the savings of Prop 47 to programs helping those recently incarcerated because the people who have been recently arrested and released need help to get back into the rhythm of society and help prevent more people from ending up in or returning to jail.


    Now, we should discuss what California has implemented to prevent retail crime. According to the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, "Governor Newsom has created a plan
    called the Real Public Safety plan, which is a plan to fight the increasing rate of crime in California by increasing law enforcement presence near retailers, creating police task forces focusing on retail theft, increase surveillance systems, and keeping Proposition 47 where it stands". Some of these implementations seem to work because when an individual or group shoplifts at a retail store, their faces are revealed to the public due to the new surveillance systems retailers use. And when their faces are displayed, they may decide to hold off or stop shoplifting due to all the attention. However, the plan to increase law enforcement at retailers may not work because Law enforcement cannot be at every place at once; they may need to respond to life-threatening emergencies. And there are not enough officers to be assigned to every retail location. One technique that I have noticed that law enforcement is using is parking a police vehicle in front of retail stores to make potential thieves believe that there is a police officer either in the store or nearby. It is important to note that California is trying its best to deter crime. 

    But what would be the best plan? The best plan is to amend Proposition 47. We should decrease the property value stolen from 950 dollars to 200 dollars or less. This is because when the value needed to be charged with a felony drops, it makes potential thieves question if their actions are worth the price of being called a felon. It also ensures that anyone who commits a crime receives the crime they properly deserve. Another way to decrease retail theft is to change how offenders access retail stores. Currently, customers are allowed to walk in and out of stores freely. But if we require customers to be buzzed in and out of the store by store employees. I suggest this because free access to stores is one of the reasons why many thieves steal. They have easy access to enter and exit the store. So, If we change how we enter and leave the store, it
    may deter possible offenders.


    To sum up, all that has been said, shoplifting has left a detrimental impact on society. It has created a threat to society and a weaker justice system. To end all these impacts on our community, we need to change Proposition 47. Hence, it punishes shoplifters, repels them from stealing again, and changes the access of stores so it can create a safer environment. Let me end with a statistic from the National Retail Federation, "When taken as a percentage of total retail sales in 2022, shrink accounted for $112.1 billion in losses, up from $93.9 billion* in 2021".

    Works Cited

    Bird, Mia, et al. "The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism." Public Policy Institute of California,

    Californians for Safety and Justice. "PROPOSITION 47 - Issue Brief." Californians for Safety and Justice, 1 December 2020,

    "County of Los Angeles - Law Office of the Public Defender | What is Prop 47?" LA County Public Defender's,

    Inman, Danielle, and David Johnston. "NRF | Retail Crime Accounted for Over $112 Billion in Industry Losses in 2022, According to NRF Report." National Retail Federation, 26
    September 2023,

    Loftstrom, Magnus, and Brandon Martins. "Retail Theft and Robbery Rates Have Risen across California." Public Policy Institute of California, 7 September 2023,

    Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom Crime Plan,

    "Spike In Shoplifting Blamed On California Prop 47's Reduced Penalties." CBS News, 14 May 2016,

    "Summary Findings." USDA ERS, 25 October 2023,

    "What Happens in a Misdemeanor Case – Superior Court of CA – County of San Joaquin." San Joaquin County Superior Court,

    12.9.6: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Proposition 47 is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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