California Takes a Big Step Towards Legalizing Shoplifting

San Francisco Financial District. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.)

If California isn’t already the nation’s shoplifting leader, it soon will be if State Senator Dave Cortese’s SB 553 becomes law, according to some retailers. The bill just passed the state Senate and now moves over to the Assembly.


Ostensibly aimed at curbing workplace violence — a nice way of saying “criminals who come in to steal stuff and create the conditions for violence” — California Retailers Association chief Rachel Michelin described the bill in harsh terms. “It says no employee can approach someone who is shoplifting. So even if someone is trained on how to deter someone from doing that, now they’re not allowed to approach someone. So, what does that mean?”

“We are opening up the door to allow people to walk into stores, steal and walk out,” she said.

Cortese, a Democrat, says that “We don’t want rank-and-file employees to be forced to place themselves in harm’s way,” something that Michelin says employers aren’t doing anyway.

What SB 553 looks like to me is more virtue signaling, enshrined into law, that California now turns a blind eye to shoplifting. That’s certainly the way criminals will read it.

Meanwhile, over at the San Francisco Standard, they’re all a flutter over when the new downtown Ikea will finally open. There are signs of life at the construction site, “potentially signaling the company’s commitment to opening its Market Street store this year.” The bright blue and yellow store sign is posted and lit, and there are bare shelves in place, waiting to be stocked.


But maybe the question that San Francisco shoppers should ask isn’t when the new Ikea will open, but how long before corporate is forced to close it.

Downtown San Francisco has some of the priciest real estate in the world but empty office buildings, rampant shoplifting, and other so-called “lifestyle crimes” have forced big-name retailers to abandon the area. A massive Whole Foods closed in April after just a year of being open, with employees having to call the police an average of 10 times every week. Two city Nordstrom locations will close this summer after the company decided not to renew their leases on Market Street and at the Westfield Mall. Saks Off Fifth is closing, as are H&M and Uniqlo. Walgreens has closed several locations around the city.

And that’s just in San Francisco, just in the last few months.

Democrats like to portray their soft stance on shoplifting as a reasonable measure: “You wouldn’t prosecute a starving man for stealing a loaf of bread, would you?”

But in San Francisco, for example, most of the shoplifting is done by well-organized theft rings operating out of neighboring Oakland. Criminals know the police won’t do anything because the district attorney won’t do anything. Now, if Senate Bill 553 passes the Assembly and earns Gov. Gavin Newsom’s slimy signature, not even store security staff will be allowed to do anything.


High-end retailers will continue to flee, and the grocery and convenience stores remaining will quickly move to a Soviet model of retailing. Customers will not be allowed past a heavily protected cash register. After they pay, a clerk will retrieve their goods for them and then pass them through the opening in a prison-like cage.

Remember when suburban and rural folks used to make special trips to the city just to do some shopping?

Good times, fading fast.

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