When California Gov. Gavin Newsom and a collection of mayors and law enforcement officials held a news conference in Long Beach last month to discuss, according to the governor’s office, “state efforts to address crime and reduce retail theft,” tongues wagged, optics sparkled, and a bill that passed both the Senate and Assembly unanimously was signed.
But a flashy production is no guarantee that success will follow. Often in politics, a good show is just a good show — nothing more.
The Third World lawlessness in California has been well documented. There is the now-famous video of at least 10 thieves running out of the San Francisco Neiman Marcus with as much stolen treasure as they could hold, and another shoplifter who filled a large plastic bag at a Walgreens — also in San Francisco — as a security guard and customers watch. Not on video, though, is the natural outcome of a disregard for enforcing the law: A Rite Aid employee was shot and killed the evening of July 15 after he tried to stop two shoplifters who were loading up at a store in a northeast Los Angeles neighborhood.
Some retail chains have told workers to leave shoplifters alone. The risk that they could end up being killed like the 36-year-old Miguel Núñez Peñaloza was in Glassell Park is just too high.
While California is always overflowing with big stories, none is bigger than the current surge in criminal activity. Most visible, of course, are the retail thefts, which is what Assembly Bill 331, the legislation Newsom signed at the July news conference, addresses. “We want to go after those rings” of organized retail thieves, he said.
But what will it achieve if George Gascon and Chesa Boudin, the district attorneys in the cities that rank first (Los Angeles) and fifth (San Francisco) nationally in retail thefts, refuse to prosecute? Both have shown they are interested in something other than criminal justice — which is why both are targets of recall campaigns — and are not just willing but actually committed to looking the other way at crimes they believe so trivial that we just have to live with them.
As bold as bandits have been in San Francisco, they have nothing on a pair of would-be thieves in Oakland, who tried to hold up a television news crew during an interview outside of City Hall in June. The subject of the interview, fittingly, was Guillermo Cespedes, the city’s director of violence prevention. The armed men tried to steal a camera, set off a scuffle, then fled when a security officer pulled a gun.
All this happened “just hours after the police chief warned of worsening crime amid cuts to the police budget,” says the San Francisco Chronicle.
Interesting that this occurred in the city that, if it didn’t defund the police, did move $18 million from a budget increase that Mayor Libby Schaaf wanted for the Oakland Police Department. The reallocated resources will be used to fund violence prevention, mental health support services, the arts, and homelessness programs. While police will receive more funding than they did from the previous budget, it will be a “much smaller increase” and will “result in the freezing of about 50 police officer positions that are responsible for responding to 911 calls,” according to The Oaklandside.
While our eyes tell us some criminals have become more brazen, and we see it directly affecting Californians’ quality of life, violent crime is by comparison a silent killer. Overall, it grew in 2020, from 433.5 incidents in 2019 per 100,000 population to 437. Homicides rose from 4.2 per 100,000 population to 5.5, and aggravated assault from 262.2 per 100,000 to 285.4, according to state data. In raw numbers, homicides swelled sharply, from 1,679 in 2019 to 2,202 in 2020 – spiraling upward at an alarming rate of 31.1 percent.
Many blame Newsom for rising crime and “revile” his criminal justice policies, the Sacramento Bee reported in its coverage of a victim and activist rally held the day before his news conference. Fair or not, that’s the reality, and slick media events will change neither the perception nor the outrageous behavior on our streets. Newson hinted at this when he began his remarks Wednesday acknowledging the public expects results from its government officials. He got that part right.