During trip to Long Beach, Newsom extends law designed to crack down on retail-theft rings

Gov. Gavin Newsom met with mayors, state lawmakers and police chiefs from across the state Wednesday inside a Retro Row retail store to sign an Assembly Bill into law that would expand a California Highway Patrol program that targets organized retail theft.

Inside a shop called The Hangout on Thursday, Newsom signed AB-331, which will extend funding for law enforcement task forces designed to crack down on retail theft until Jan. 2026. Newsom said the state has already allocated funds in the recently adopted budget that will allow local police agencies to partner with the CHP in regional task forces to investigate and bring down retail-theft rings.

The bill would also make it possible to charge people found to be part of a retail-theft ring with a misdemeanor or felony and based on the accrued value of stolen items over a 12-month span rather than a single theft. Previous state law had reduced certain non-violent crimes like shoplifting and grand theft to misdemeanors if the value of the stolen items did not exceed $950.

AB-331 would apply to people who committed the theft, received stolen property, organized the ring, recruited people to it or otherwise knowingly participated in the theft.

“We are doubling down on those efforts with this bill,” Newsom said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to the media at a press conference in Long Beach on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The task force program originally started in 2019 and was set to end this month before state legislators were able to secure an extension. Organized retail theft accounts for nearly $30 billion in economic losses per year, according to the National Retail Federation.

CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said that the task forces have assisted in 668 investigations leading to 252 arrests and the seizure of about $16.3 million in stolen merchandise since 2019. The extension of the program will include three task forces that will be deployed in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and another inland location, according to Ray.

LBPD Chief Robert Luna said that the city has seen some instances of organized theft but not to the extent that other communities have. Luna said that the department has a detective already assigned to a task force dealing with retail theft and he appreciates Newsom investing in these kinds of measures.

“At what point do you hold people accountable who are making a living off the backs of business owners like the ones here on Fourth Street, who are not only making a living for themselves but their employees here and providing a livelihood for them?” Luna said.

Last month, LBPD officers arrested a man who they believed to be behind a string of at least eight break-ins at area restaurants and Luna said he’s hopeful this program and other investments that Newsom made in this budget regarding crime and recidivism prevention can help repeat offenders get the help they may need.

“What we’re doing here today, I’m hoping will impact somebody like that,” Luna said. “If someone is stealing because they have a drug addiction, then let’s get them some help, but that service needs to be available to people who need it. We can’t just let people go and not provide any services because they’re going to re-offend.”

Overall property crime is down in Long Beach this year, according to the most recently released crime data from the Long Beach Police Department. Property crime fell 0.7% year to date with commercial burglary (37.6%), petty theft under $50 (54%) and petty theft over $50 (6.9%) all seeing decreases. Grand theft, however, is up 24.7%, according to LBPD data through June.

Man broke into at least 8 Long Beach restaurants in span of 3 days, police say

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.