Stealing is wrong.
It is also wrong to throw someone into jail for two years for stealing a loaf of bread.
Given two wrongs don’t make a right, California voters were convinced in 2014 to pass Proposition 47, the so-called Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act.
The promise made to voters was approval would result in a fairer criminal justice system while freeing up resources to make more effective inroads into crime.
One key provision was elevating the threshold before a theft moved from misdemeanor to felony status from $450 to $950.
And to assure there would still be punishment for the majority of crimes involving property theft under $950 which occur as thefts from stores, the measure created a new penal code section 459.5 that made shoplifting a misdemeanor.
Shoplifting under Proposition 47 is defined as “entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours” and of the property stolen does not exceed $950 in value.
The punishment was up to six months in county jail.
That meant those arrested for such crimes — unless law enforcement can establish they are part of an organized crime ring or they flee lawful orders by police to stop and then proceed to commit felony evasion — are simply detained momentarily, cited for a misdemeanor with an order to appear in court, and released.
On the surface, it makes sense.
But what it has evolved into is a law that has helped produce more crime victims while giving a growing number of criminals stay-out –of-jail cards.
The lower rate of incarceration is also the hallmark of the restorative justice movement that is becoming embedded in many California counties.
Again, it makes sense on the surface. Who wouldn’t want a criminal justice system focusing on the rehabilitation of individuals through reconciliation with victims and the community at large? Taking a wild guess, perhaps those that wouldn’t are the 40 percent of San Francisco residents who say they plan to move out of the city within two years because crime is getting out of control.
Yes, they have their shootings including those by illegal immigrants embedded in cutthroat gangs. Homicides and violent crimes haven’t really increased, though. What is really soaring is the rapid — and seemingly endless — expansion of lower level crimes.
Some of that are those among the homeless who consume drugs and alcohol on city sidewalks where their encampments block passage.
But much of it has to do with how the restorative justice advocates have gone into overdrive and opted to cherry-pick what parts of Proposition 47 they will enforce.
The district attorney’s office in San Francisco has essentially stopped prosecuting misdemeanor shoplifting under $950. The police might as well as just toss their citations books into the garbage.
Of course “small” thefts under $950 add up quickly.
That has forced Walgreen’s to opt to close 17 stores in the past five years.
But now that the San Francisco DA has turned The City into a “consequence-free zone for misdemeanors” the crime rate and pilferage of stores have skyrocketed. Car thefts and burglaries are up 21 percent in the last year, auto burglaries have increased 700 percent in some neighborhoods, and shoplifting has become downright brazen especially in the last few months.
The latest were a half dozen individuals caught in cellphone footage that grabbed armfuls of designer purses and dashed out of the Neiman Marcus store on Union Square, jumped into waiting cars and sped off.
Given you’re lucky to find a purse under $950 in Neiman Marcus, based on value this was a felony store heist.
It is all made possible by the elevated criminal behavior the district attorney’s office has encouraged by declining to address misdemeanor crimes. In what world did DA Chesa Boudin not think that such an approach wouldn’t emboldened criminals?
A recent video that has gone viral — a man bicycling into a San Francisco CVS store and sweeping merchandise into a large garbage bag and then pedaling back out — has set a new criminal behavior standard other criminals are rushing to match or exceed.
They also are acting in manners that put store personnel and customers at risk.
It is why Target last week — after experiencing months of growing thefts — announced it is cutting back store hours of its locations in San Francisco. They will close at 6 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. to avoid being open during prime crime time and reduce risk to customers and workers.
Of course if one complains about the rising crime rate in San Francisco folks in the DA’s office — such as senior director Kate Chatfield — will tweet that you are a racist.
Boudin is basically at war with the San Francisco Police Department. He blamed them for “only making arrests in 10 percent of all reported crimes.”
That nicely deflects shining the light on Boudin’s application of restorative justice that essentially has stopped many misdemeanor prosecutions such as the de facto looting of stores.
If there is no pushback, why is any one surprised that criminals are bicycling into stores, filling garbage bags with merchandise, and bicycling out or organizing groups to steal in broad daylight with grab and dash thefts around Union Square?
Boudin seems to expect police to play an ineffective game of catch-and-release where those who are caught shoplifting are issued citations that his office policies have made sure aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.
The fact that such crime is doubling when the police force numbers are steady or declining isn’t because law enforcement isn’t holding up their end of the bargain.
Criminals in San Francisco know they can push the limits and get away with it. While that may not apply to murder it certainly applies to retail theft and other property crimes.
It won’t be long at this rate that the “no-fault” approach to misdemeanor crimes such as stealing in large quantities from stores will see some criminals step up their game.
And that usually means applying force when a law-abiding citizen refuses to hand over the goods.
Of course, if a crime victim has their face pulverized, bones broken, are stabbed, or shot for failing to comply with demands by criminals who are gaining control of neighborhoods the DA will probably respond by saying they had it coming.
San Francisco criminals, after all, have been issued stay-out-of-jail cards by Boudin.
And if one is to challenge the wisdom of Boudin’s take on justice and you’re a crime victim, his staff will quickly brand you a racist.
Apparently that’s how restorative justice, San Francisco-style, works.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.