SAN FRANCISCO – In a lighted garage on one of San Francisco's busiest streets, a young man in baggy trousers and messy brown hair pulled down his pants. He had been hiding two pairs of stolen jeans with the tags still on them. He handed them to another man waiting nearby, took some money, pulled up his pants and headed back into another store on Market Street — home to the city's high-end designers and big-chain retail shops.
The incident wasn't a one-off. These brazen acts of petty theft and shoplifting are a dangerous and all-too-common consequence of Proposition 47, a referendum passed five years ago that critics say effectively gives shoplifters and addicts the green light to commit crimes as long as the merchandise they steal or the drugs they take are less than $950 in value. The decision to downgrade theft of property valued below the arbitrary figure from felony to misdemeanor, together with selective enforcement that focuses on more “serious” crimes, has resulted in thieves knowing they can brazenly shoplift and merchants knowing the police will not respond to their complaints, say critics.
Over in the City by the Bay's famous Tenderloin district, Cassie, a 21-year-old mother of two and a former heroin junkie, told Fox News that when times were tough, she too has stolen from stores.
"If my babies need diapers or formula, who is going to get that for me? No one. I have to do it," she said. "They ain't out here arresting people for (shoplifting) and everyone knows it."
Proposition 47 is seen by critics as one of California's biggest blunders. Supported by the state Democratic Party and championed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the referendum was passed by a wide margin in 2014. The idea behind it was to reduce certain non-violent felonies to misdemeanors in order to free up resources for cops and prosecutors to focus on violent offenders.
Since Proposition 47 was passed, there has been an increase in theft across the state. Cities like San Francisco have seen organized crime rings turn shoplifting into a well-organized racket involving desperate thieves and unscrupulous black-market resellers.