A California bill to prohibit employees from confronting shoplifters or active shooters has passed the state Senate, in spite of opposition from retailers who say it would add to the state’s escalating retail theft problem.
“With growing awareness of workplace violence, California needs smarter guidelines to keep workers safe in the office or on the job site,” said the bill’s author Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) in a press release.
Under SB 553, employers would be prohibited from forcing their workers to confront active shoplifters and would set standards for companies of all kinds to address workplace violence prevention.
According to Cortese, the bill is focused on protecting employees and does not affect private security guards. In fact, it highlights the need for dedicated safety personnel, according to his office.
The bill does not prohibit employees from stopping theft, but does prohibit employers from having a policy requiring them to confront shoplifters, according to Cortese.
“It does prevent employers from asking non-[private] security personnel to confront a person involved in criminal activity,” Cortese told The Epoch Times in a statement. “We don’t want rank and file employees to be forced to place themselves in harm’s way.”
Supporters of the bill argue that worker safety is an emergency.
Assaults at stores have increased in the state faster than the national average, rising 42 percent from 2018 to 2020, with a 63 percent increase at grocery stores and a 75 percent jump at convenience stores, Cortese said in an analysis of the bill.
Over 50 state and national organizations are against the measure, however, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and the California Retailers Association, among others representing a wide range of sectors.
“Unfortunately, we are creating an environment where I actually think this bill will do the opposite, which is to create more workplace violence,” California Retailers Association’s President Rachel Michelin told The Epoch Times. “I think you’d have more people coming in and brazenly stealing from stores because there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
The bill additionally eliminates the ability for a store’s loss-prevention employees to approach anyone suspected of shoplifting, according to Michelin.
“A lot of our stores already have hands-off policies,” she said. “A lot of companies will fire employees over that.”
The legislation would have a huge impact on small businesses, she added.
“[This comes] at a time in California when we’re facing record shoplifting, and organized crime is through the roof,” she said.
Retail crime in the Golden State has reached a crisis in many cities, experts say. In California, retailers lose more than $7.8 billion a year to theft, credit giant Capital One reported in April.
In San Francisco this year, several major retailers have closed stores citing a rise in crime and a changing environment.
Last month, Nordstrom announced the closing of its two remaining stores in the city because of a “deteriorating situation in downtown San Francisco.” Before that, Whole Foods Market, Walgreens, Amazon Go, and Anthropologie also closed outlets in downtown.
This week, the city’s largest hotel—the 1,921-room San Francisco Hilton—and the 1,024-room Parc 55, stopped making loan payments, electing to walk away, the hotels’ owner, Park Hotels and Resorts, announced on June 5.
“After much thought and consideration, we believe it is in the best interest for Park’s stockholders to materially reduce our current exposure to the San Francisco market,” said Thomas Baltimore, Jr., chairman and CEO of Park, in a statement. “Now more than ever, we believe San Francisco’s path to recovery remains clouded and elongated by major challenges – both old and new: record high office vacancy; concerns over street conditions; lower return to office than peer cities; and a weaker than expected citywide convention calendar through 2027…”
Retailers Campaign for Change
Last year, the California Chamber of Commerce and retailers created Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft, a coalition of chambers of commerce, businesses, and business organizations to raise public awareness of the state’s growing theft problem.
The state’s store owners have reported an increase in violence statewide, according to the coalition, and losses have increased nearly 60 percent over the past five years.
SB 553 doesn’t address the root cause of the problem—retail crime, spokesman Matt Ross told The Epoch Times.
“I don’t think this bill will do anything to affect the problems with retail crime in any way, shape, or form,” he said. “What we need to do is get more cops dedicated to retail theft and the violence that’s associated with it.”
The bill takes the wrong approach and puts the onus on businesses and not on criminals, Ross added.
“We need greater enhancements for habitual criminals, and we need to see some revisions to Prop. 47,” he said.
The coalition is advocating for California’s officials to undo Proposition 47, a law passed by voters in 2014 that reduced many felony offenses to misdemeanors, including drug possession.
It also raised the minimum of felony thefts to $950, which many critics say is the main reason shoplifting and theft have risen across the state.
This session, the Legislature has struck down five bills, authored by Democrats and Republicans alike, that would have addressed retail theft, the coalition reported in May.
“Crime is on the rise, and the Legislature is doing nothing about it,” the organization said in a statement.
Theft is growing faster than sales, the organization added.
“Every one of these bills died without a vote on the floor,” the coalition stated. “These are not victimless crimes. Retail theft puts business owners’, customers’, and employees’ personal safety at risk.”
Retail theft has become a problem in California’s bigger cities. Last year, stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties were victims of “smash-and-grab” robberies.