On the heels of scathing criticism of retailers’ response to theft, Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper praised one major grocery store chain for working with deputies to stop shoplifters.
Cooper lambasted Walgreens, Target and the California Retailers Association last week on social media for thwarting deputies’ efforts to arrest suspects and failing to address what he called lax penalties for property crimes. He detailed how each corporate chain didn’t allow deputies to carry out a planned anti-theft operation.
But on Sunday, Cooper piled compliments on Safeway, owned by Albertsons Companies, Inc., for not impeding deputies during an operation at a Sacramento County store, as well as the California Grocers Association.
The sheriff’s comments about Proposition 47 — which outlines some property crimes offenses — attracted national media attention as the outcry against retail theft grows in California. Some crime experts have said there is no correlation between highly publicized so-called “smash and grab” robberies and Prop 47.
“Some large retailers, like Safeway and the (California Grocers Association) are continuing to help in the fight to keep their communities and customers safe,” Cooper wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It is amazing to see what can happen when businesses work hand in hand with law enforcement.”
Safeway loss prevention officers coordinated with deputies during a “blitz operation” to identify theft suspects and then allowed them to be cited with misdemeanors, according to Cooper’s post. The alleged thieves were also issued a formal order forbidding them from trespassing at Safeway, he wrote.
Safeway did not respond to a request for comment.
A blitz operation, carried out by deputies, is when a large number of deputies target a particular place to make numerous arrests, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Amar Gandhi said.
Deputies weren’t allowed to carry out their efforts they planned with Walgreens’ employees, Cooper has said. At Target, deputies weren’t allowed to arrest individuals inside the store and could only do so outside to avoid negative press, the sheriff said.
In contrast, Gandhi said deputies could arrest alleged thieves in the Safeway rather than outside. And store employees sought to continue with the prosecution, he said.
“This requires active participation from these retailers to actively go out and solve this problem,” Gandhi said. “And they can’t simply cry foul.”
Walgreens said in a statement last week that it looks forward to working with the Sheriff’s Office. Target didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Cooper’s public lampooning of major retailers comes because the Sheriff’s Office seeks to amend Proposition 47, Gandhi said.
The ballot measure, approved by California voters in 2014, reduced some nonviolent property crimes to misdemeanors, such as theft that doesn’t exceed $950. It was approved to invest in alternatives to prison, such as mental health and drug treatments.
Retracting the criminal justice reforms to stop thieves could be ineffective or have negative consequences, Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine, has told The Sacramento Bee. Crime is not the factor impacting problems at stores, she said.
Gandhi, though, said a person could steal $949 worth of items and walk away with a ticket as if they ran a red light.
“These decisions were … sold as a bag of falsehoods to the public, saying that this would enhance public safety,” Gandhi said. “Clearly, the experiment has failed.”
KUDOS to Safeway and the California Grocers Association (CGA) for continuing to be active partners in the fight against retail theft.
Safeway’s Organized Retail Theft Management team recently reached out to Sheriff’s Property Crimes detectives regarding ongoing theft issues at a… pic.twitter.com/fw3inHOVPM
— Jim Cooper (@SheriffJCooper) November 12, 2023
California Retailers Association pushes back after criticism
Rachel Michelin, the CEO of the California Retailers Association, defended her trade group after the Sheriff’s Office also accused them of doing nothing to stop shoplifters.
She said the organization helped ensure legislation passed that created organized crime task forces throughout California and worked this year with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office to earmark nearly $300 million in grants for local law enforcement to fight retail theft.
The association also sought to change Prop 47 in collaboration with the governor’s office, Michelin said, and sponsored bills seeking to address its shortcomings, such as Assembly Bill 1708, which died. However, not everything about Prop 47 should be undone, she said.
A person cited with a misdemeanor is not always forced to appear in front of a judge, Michelin said. Prop 47’s original intention of enacting criminal justice reforms — such as mental health diversion — don’t always get enacted because a person isn’t forced to appear in court, she added.
Gandhi also accused the California Retailers Association of doing nothing to help pass Proposition 20, a referendum that failed in 2020 by 62% of voters. It sought to stiffen penalties for property crimes.
But passing a ballot initiative isn’t the solution, Michelin said. Making legislative changes without the checks and balances afforded by the regular legislative process can lead to unintended consequences — just like what happened to Prop 47, she said. And it will cost millions to convince California voters to approve any referendum.
“What kind of consequences can come from just trying to fix a ballot initiative with another ballot initiative?” Michelin added.
Cooper wrote in a statement to The Bee that Prop 47 can only be amended by going back to voters. There’s a clause in the referendum that doesn’t allow legislators to change it, he said.
“The CRA needs to be honest in its statement and admit the only solution is to take this issue back to voters and quit playing political gamesmanship with the consumer,” Cooper wrote.