San Jose officials support retail theft crackdown reform
The Gucci Store in WestField Valley Fair was robbed by an organized retail theft ring last year. File photo.

San Jose’s top political leader supports harsher penalties for drug dealers as voters consider new measures to hold thieves and drug suppliers accountable.

California voters passed the criminal justice proposition in 2014 and established a $950 threshold for determining whether a theft would be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. But opponents of Proposition 47 gathered enough signatures to give Californians an opportunity to vote for harsher punishments on theft and drug crimes under a new reform initiative dubbed the Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Theft Reduction Act.  If passed, people with a history of theft convictions could be charged with a felony for stolen amounts under $950 including smash and grabs. Harsher punishments also would be reinstated for drug dealers.

Mahan said at a recent news conference he wants to support a Prop. 47 reform measure that makes San Jose safer.

“Far too many of our homeless neighbors are suffering from a mental health or addiction challenge that causes them to cycle between our jails, hospitals and streets. Instead of allowing this expensive and inhumane pattern to continue, we can intervene,” he said.

The act also creates “treatment-mandated felonies” giving people charged with drug possession the option to seek treatment instead of a felony.

Santa Clara County Republican Party Chairman Shane Patrick Connolly said more people choosing treatment over incarceration would result in homelessness going down statewide as people address their substance use disorder.

“People don’t want to use our trails because of all of the encampments, and not everyone in the encampments are the friendliest folks – some are, some aren’t. I’ve had friends attacked by pit bulls, and they’re trying to bike to work and things like that,” he said. “There’s this kind of general sense of lawlessness that (Prop. 47 reforms) will help turn around.”

Last year San Jose City Council unanimously approved creating the Organized Retail Theft Detail, an investigative team within the San Jose Police Department to gather intelligence and track crime statistics and patterns to identify hotspots, catch criminals and reduce the rate of retail crimes.  The San Jose Police Department received nearly $8.5 million from the state to launch a three-year program.

Political consultant Rich Robinson told San José Spotlight he isn’t surprised to see big city mayors like Mahan call for Prop. 47 reforms in light of organized retail theft and companies pulling out of some locations.

“Ultimately, crime has gone down in the state of California,” Robinson said. “But the cause and effect of the news coverage on thefts was retail shops closing down, and they’ve got competition coming from Amazon and online retailers – so it’s not just Prop. 47 that’s causing the problems for these retailers.”

A 2022 UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times found 59% of people surveyed said they supported reforming Prop. 47.

Not all political leaders are on board.

Santa Clara County Democratic Party Chair Bill James told San José Spotlight they oppose the proposition, which he said have almost nothing to do with reducing homelessness or drug addiction. Instead, it returns to failed mass incarceration strategies to combat retail theft.

“Law enforcement agencies, including the State Attorney General, already have initiatives in place that have been successful in addressing retail theft, and as the Attorney General has said retail theft by organized rings and or involving violence is already a serious crime that can and should be charged as a felony,” he said.

Regardless of the actual crime statistics, Robinson said he thinks California voters will pass the  proposition. Whether the reforms will lead to a decrease in crime and homelessness has yet to be seen, he said, but it will mean more work for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

“I think the voters are going to pass anything that is going to punish people, especially as they see the quality of life go down,” he said.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow @VicenteJVera on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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