California Gov. Newsom signs bill to combat organized retail crime following brazen and violent thefts

California Gov. Newsom announced new efforts to crack down on a surge of retail thefts and other crimes Wednesday following a series of violent incidents involving shoplifters in recent months.

Appearing with law enforcement officials and mayors from throughout the state at a small business in Long Beach, the Democratic governor signed a bill to create crime task forces around the California Highway Patrol and local agencies to address organized theft rings.

The bill — AB 331 — also re-established organized retail theft as a crime, a designation which had lapsed on July 1. It also applies to those who work with thieves to steal or receive stolen merchandise and those who recruit or organize theft rings.

“We’ve been organized in a very deliberative manner to address the issue of organized retail crime for a number of years,” said Newsom. “We are doubling down on those efforts today with this bill that I’ll be signing here in a moment.”

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The task force teams will focus on three regions – the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Orange County.

“We can’t do this alone. We need you, the public, our communities, we need our public partners to assist us in this effort,” CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a Fox News request for comment. Fox News has also reached out to the offices of progressive district attorneys George Gascon of Los Angeles County and Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, both of who have been criticized for refusing to prosecute certain crimes.

Two California cities – Los Angeles and San Francisco – rank in the top five cities experiencing organized retail theft, according to the National Retail Federation.

Retail thieves have grown bolder in recent months as videos of thefts in San Francisco and Los Angeles have gone viral. A video circulating online Tuesday appears to show two men in the Los Angeles suburb of Granda Hills casually leaving a TJ Maxx store with their arms full of items.

One man had a large duffel bag that appeared to be packed with stolen goods. On July 15, Rite Aid employee Miguel Penaloza was shot and killed while confronting two men who attempted to leave the Los Angeles store with beer without paying, police said.

The two suspects are being sought.

In San Francisco, 10 people entered a Nieman Marcus store and snatched designer purses in a smash-and-grab scheme before running out to waiting cars.

“The overall problem is a challenge — the brazenness of some of these crimes,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said Wednesday. “When they see these things go viral, the perception of lawlessness, the perception that anything goes — that has to be overcome, too.”

Retailers began complaining of a rise in shoplifting after the passage of Proposition 47, a statewide referendum passed in 2014 that downgrades theft of property below $950 in value. The idea behind the measure was to reduce certain non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in an effort to free up law enforcement and prosecutors to focus on violent offenders.

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Newsom also highlighted state efforts to reduce gun violence, noting that California went from having the third-highest gun death rate in 1993 to haveing the seventh-lowest in 2017.

“We know how to produce results. California has led in terms of gun safety and common-sense gun safety reforms,” he said. “We recognize the headwinds; there’s 39.7 million reasons to underscore that. That’s the number of people not just living in the state of California, but coincidentally the number of people who got FBI background checks last year for the purchases of guns. That’s the largest number of gun purchases in American history. We’re up against a gun epidemic.”

Jessica Millan Patterson, the chairwoman for the California Republican Party, said Newsom was only getting serious about crime because he faces a recall election.

“Now with a recall looming, he claims it’s time to get serious,” she said in a statement. “Voters can see through his photo ops and on September 14 will replace him with a leader who is committed to returning safety to our communities.”