Governor Newsom, joined by SFPD chief, signs bill targeting rampant organized retail theft

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday targeting California's rampant retail theft problems.

Newsom met in Los Angeles with state and local leaders, including San Francisco Chief of Police Bill Scott and 13 California mayors. 

Newsom signed AB331 on organized crime, the type of which has been highlighted in local news media in viral videos that has shown mobs ransacking high-end stores, smashing windows and fleeing before police arrive. 

Newsom pointed out California has no state police, but does have the California Highway Patrol. The bill extends CHP's retail crime task force. Resources will focus on three areas: Golden Gate area, San Diego and Orange County area, and Inland areas. CHP will add a tip line to combat these types of retail crimes. 

"We can't do this alone. We need you, the public, our communities, we need our public partners to assist us in this effort," Amanda Ray, CHP commissioner said.

Since the task force began in November 2019, CHP has made more than 252 arrests and recovered $16.3 million in stolen merchandise. The new law allows for even greater enforcement until 2026.

"We need to hold folks to account, but we'll do it in a thoughtful and judicious way. We're not going back to the way things were in the ‘80s and ’90s At least not while I'm here. That said, we need to see more accountability, we need to see enforcement, and we need a commensurate commitment to address the reforms that I think many of us behind me embrace and have long embraced in California that have proven successful in this state," Newsom said.

Despite a news conference last week, where San Francisco's mayor and police chief said crime was down in some areas and that viral shoplifting videos don't always paint the full picture, Newsom addressed his own efforts to reduce retail theft in California's communities. 

Chief Scott said when these types of videos go viral, it gives the perception of lawlessness. His message was that law enforcement has to strike a balance that while the videos may not be the complete story, law enforcement is doing something about these crimes. 

Crime data from the city of San Francisco actually shows the city is experiencing slightly fewer retail robberies than before the pandemic. SFPD is working with law enforcement around the state and have recovered more than $10 million in stolen items in just the past year and a half. 

"The reality is retail thefts are down this year, but that doesn't matter. We need to take care of business," SFPD Chief Scott told KTVU. 

As of this week, nearly 30 uniformed SFPD officers are strategically stationed at popular tourist spots to deter thefts, like car break-ins. 

In Union Square, foot patrols have increased from two officers to six after the high-profile theft of handbags at the high-end store Neiman Marcus earlier this month. 

Crimes like car robberies, aggravated assaults and car break-ins are trending back upwards to pre-pandemic levels, but the rates are still below where they were in 2019, according to San Francisco's mid-year crime report.