Prop. 47 Reforms Gain Traction


2024 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the passage of California’s Proposition 47, the so-called “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” For the first time, the California Assembly and even Governor Newsom are taking a hard look at both Prop 47’s consequences and what actions can be taken to reduce California’s increasing crime.

It doesn’t take a deep understanding of crime statistics to understand that theft is on the increase.  The media and social media  provide almost daily examples of brazen shoplifting and car burglaries. The San Francisco Chronicle’s auto burglary “tracker” shows hundreds of thefts from vehicles every month and KRON 4 News in San Francisco recently reported the arrest of a serial shoplifter in the East Bay who had previously been arrested 90 times.

Despite assertions from advocates of criminal justice reform that fear of crime is unjustified by Prop. 47, the statistics are clear. In 2022, property crime in California increased 6.2 percent and those are only reported thefts.  The National Crime Victimization Survey – which, as its name implies, relies on surveyed data rather than reported crime – shows that victimization is up and runs far higher than reported statistics.

Retail and commercial victims are often reluctant to report theft for a variety of reasons, and also, retail theft is typically reflected on a per capita basis rather than based on the number of businesses.  So, while the SF Chronicle recently reported that retail thefts were down over the same period last year, it is possible that the decrease can be attributed to the reduced number of retailers versus last year.

Newly elected Speaker of the Assembly Robert Rivas has begun to take a look at the problem and recently appointed the Assembly Select Committee on Retail Theft, which held their first meeting last December.  Two of the key takeaways will be determining a point of agreement on the scope of the problem as well as determining the causes of retail theft.  Upcoming discussions will certainly need to include  the link between thefts and drug use and addiction, as reducing the sanctions for drug possession was a key component of Prop 47.  Most experts agree that drug availability and addiction are key drivers to increasing thefts.

This year, Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua of Stockton introduced a Prop 47 reform of his own that includes lowering the dollar value threshold in order to “hold habitual offenders more accountable,” supporting diversion programs, allowing for judicial discretion in sentencing, and allowing the legislature to act in ways not currently allowed under Prop 47.

California retailers as well as the California District Attorneys Association are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative of their own to reform Prop 47.

Keep in mind that any legislative changes to Prop. 47 will likely require voter approval under the language of the initiative.

Governor Newsom is now paying attention, and despite his assertions during his recent debate with Governor DeSantis that crime in California is at “fifty-year lows,” his 2024 legislative agenda includes criminal justice reforms aimed at “professional thieves”.

According to Politico:

Newsom is asking lawmakers to create new categories of crimes targeting “professional” offenders who have stolen property or burglarized vehicles with the intent to resell them and to enhance penalties for people who resell large amounts of stolen goods. He also wants to clarify existing powers to arrest retail thieves and aggregate separate offenses while indefinitely extending a state retail task force.

Ironically, the Governor has consistently fought off efforts to reform Prop 47 that were aimed to do just that.  His current chief of staff, Dana Williamson, led the opposition campaign to Proposition 20 in 2020, which would have reformed Prop 47 in the exact same way Newsom is now proposing but was rejected by voters.  According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Prop. 20 “would have also established two additional types of crimes in state code—serial crime and organized retail crime—and charge them as wobblers (or crimes chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies).”

A survey completed in 2023 by the Public Policy Institute of California asked respondents this question: “In the last 12 months, do you think that violence and street crime in your local community has increased, decreased or stayed about the same?   In 2022, 43 percent said it had increased – in 2023, that number had risen to 52 percent.

Perhaps the same percentage now exists in the California Assembly.

Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute.




Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top