California Shoplifting Spree Sparks Backlash to Decriminalization of Petty Theft

Shoplifters in California

Viral video of people brazenly hauling out merchandize from a TJ Max store in Los Angeles in broad daylight is part of an ongoing shoplifting spree in California that some say is the consequence of a referendum put in place in 2014 to make stealing items priced at $950 or less a misdemeanor.

ABC7 in Los Angeles reported on the video:

“I kept my distance for safety reasons,” the person who recorded the video, who declined to be identified publicly, told ABC7. “My focus was to get a license plate number, but when I lost them behind the SUV. I had to hold back a bit, just in case they were waiting for me. Unfortunately they were able to get into their vehicle parked at a distance and drive away.”

No arrests have been announced in connection with the crime. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson said the agency was aware of the incident and that a report was taken.

The theft occurred days before Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law aimed at curbing organized retail theft, which has been costing California businesses millions of dollars annually. The law reestablishes the crime of organized retail theft, which lawmakers first created in 2018 but allowed to lapse as of July 1. Prosecutors can again seek to charge the crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Newsom, who faces a recall election on September 14, has been trying to talk tough on crime in the wake of lawlessness in his state.

“We are doubling down on those efforts,” Newsom said at a press conference in Long Beach on Wednesday. “We have all seen those videos of people rushing in, those organized efforts — and they are organized.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the press conference, which included San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott:

Scott and [San Francisco] Mayor London Breed recently sought to tamp down growing perceptions — fueled in part by viral videos — that San Francisco is a chaotic, lawless city. They said statistics show crime rates similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Major retailers like CVS, Walgreens and Target have complained in recent months that persistent theft by organized crime rings in San Francisco has severely damaged their businesses, and even forced store closures. The retailers so far have provided little independently verifiable information about the thefts being organized, or exactly how many are occurring.

The revived law allows California Highway Patrol officers to help local law enforcement fight retail theft. CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said at the press conference that largest retail-theft bust in three years netted $8.1 million in stolen merchandise.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter or send news tips to


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.