Flash Mob Burglary
Screenshot of mass shoplifting at an LA Nordstrom store in August from @DowntownLAScan Twitter video

Welcome to the new California — or as some call it CRIMEafornia — where criminals are emboldened and a sense of lawlessness prevails.

This cultural shift can be traced back to recent progressive reforms such as the “defund the police” movement and measures to decriminalize numerous crimes and allow for early release from prison. The consequences of these new policies in Los Angeles should serve as a stark warning to San Diego on the dangers of succumbing to progressive pressures.

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As a result of the “defund the police” movement that arose in 2020, criminal justice reforms have cut police budgets and lowered law enforcement morale, ultimately reducing the number of local law enforcement on streets across the nation. In general, retirements and resignations are up, recruitment is down, and Californians are left with increasingly brazen criminals as we face the lowest levels of police coverage since the 1990s.

In LA, then-Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council succumbed to progressive pressures and cut the LA Police Department budget by $150 million in 2020, reducing police staffing levels to their lowest since 2008. LA Councilman Curren Price explained this action is a “continuing down payment in our quest for equity and reimagining public safety.”

And his words ring true. LA now has a reimagined vision of public safety — or lack thereof. Fast forward to August 2023, Chief Michel Moore says the LAPD is “facing a severe staffing shortage” and “has fewer than 9,000 officers, which is a historic low.”

In addition to less law enforcement, progressive policies paved the way for increased crime. First, Democrat-backed Assembly Bill 109 (2011) implemented “realignment,” which changed about 500 criminal statutes that now allow certain felons to serve their time in county jail, rather than state prison, often leading to their early release because of jail overcrowding.

In 2014, California voters approved Proposition 47, the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” a progressive criminal reform push that reduced theft under $950 to a misdemeanor, drastically decreasing the penalties for theft. Finally, in 2016, voters approved Proposition 57, which allows for early release from prison and reduces penalties for repeat offenders.

As if this was not enough, LA continues to bow to the progressive pressure even more with its zero-bail policy that allows perpetrators to walk out of jail the same day they are arrested with a simple citation.

Between LAPD funding cuts, reduced penalties, and zero-bail, LA has become a criminal’s haven, giving them more protection than the public. We are starting to see the impacts of LA’s “reimagined public safety,” especially with an alarming uptick in property crime and retail theft.

Just recently we saw the consequences of all these progressive reforms with a flash mob robbery at a Nordstrom in Canoga Park that resulted in theft of $300,000 of high-end handbags and other items. Two of the arrested suspects “were out on bail or their own recognizance” when they committed the crime and have been tied to other flash mob robberies. Most of the 50 suspects are still at large.

If caught, many will likely be released the same day they are arrested because of the county’s zero-bail policy. We’ve seen this “cite and release” before with brazen thieves in LA County. Earlier this month, police arrested a perpetrator from the $300,000 flash mob robbery at the Yves Saint Laurent store in Glendale, only to release him hours later with a citation on zero-bail.

LA has been consistently ranked as the top city most affected by organized retail theft since 2018. Between 2020 and 2022, LA County saw over a 14% increase in property crimes. So far in 2023, the City of LA has seen a 14.2% increase in retail theft compared to last year, according to LAPD. Sadly, these statistics aren’t surprising and are likely under-reported, considering it seems another major retail robbery occurs every day.

Given law enforcement shortages and the increasing soft-on-crime progressive policies, is it any wonder that organized robberies, such as “smash-and-grabs” and “flash mob robberies,” are a growing problem in LA?

Gangs of thieves, emboldened by the knowledge that law enforcement and the justice system largely have to “look the other way,” consider themselves free to steal whatever they can carry from pretty much whatever store they want. Large retailers are the easiest targets since they yield the biggest bang for the effort, but small neighborhood retailers are being shoplifted to death.

Recall the adage, “Crime doesn’t pay”? Well, nowadays, thanks to the current progressive trend of catering to criminals instead of protecting the public, crime DOES indeed pay.

We must end this madness and re-establish consequences for crime, starting with fully funding law enforcement; reversing Prop 47, 57, and Assembly Bill 109 (2011); and ending zero-bail policies. We cannot allow CRIMEafornia to become the new normal.

Now is our chance to fix this mess before it spirals even further. As we head into another election next year, Angelenos should hold their elected officials accountable for their disastrous “reimagined public safety.”

Remember San Diegans, voting has consequences, and we must learn from the mistakes of LA to protect our community from the same fate.

Sen. Brian W. Jones represents the 40th District in central San Diego County and is the minority leader in the Senate.