The governors of New York and California, Kathy Hochul and Gavin Newsom, have unveiled plans to address the issue of retail crime in their respective states. Both governors have made tackling theft a top priority, responding to concerns from voters about crime ahead of the 2024 election. These initiatives have the potential to upend traditional partisan fault lines, as traditionally Republicans have focused on increasing penalties, while Democrats have sought to address the underlying causes of crime.
In recent years, nine states, including six in 2023, have passed laws to impose harsher penalties for organized retail crime offenses. New York and California may soon join this list. Retailers and trade associations have been instrumental in pushing for these laws.
However, it is difficult to determine whether theft offenses are actually increasing on a national scale, as many cases go unreported and undetected. Moreover, experts have raised concerns that increasing penalties may not effectively reduce theft offenses and could disproportionately affect marginalized groups. Similar strategies implemented to address the drug trade have shown limited success in reducing drug use and availability.
Governor Hochul plans to introduce legislation that would create criminal penalties for online marketplaces and third-party sellers contributing to the sale of stolen goods. She also aims to strengthen penalties for those who assault retail employees. Additionally, Hochul intends to set up two new task forces dedicated to tackling organized retail theft rings and smash-and-grab robberies. She calls for expanded funding for state police departments and district attorney's offices to better equip them to address retail theft and other property crimes.
Governor Newsom has announced a $1.1 billion investment in "safety and security," with $373.5 million dedicated to combating organized retail theft. He has also called for new legislation targeting repeat offenders and professional thieves, proposing increased penalties and prison time. Newsom wants changes to the state penal code that would allow police to aggregate theft incidents within a given time period, making it easier to charge repeat offenders with grand theft and other felonies.
Both governors are taking a strong stance on retail crime, emphasizing the importance of addressing this issue for public safety and economic stability. However, the effectiveness of these proposed measures remains to be seen, and concerns about potential unintended consequences and the disproportionate impact on marginalized groups have been raised.