Guess who uttered the following sound bite: “When shameless criminals walk out of stores with stolen goods, they’ll walk straight into jail cells.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis?
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio?
Try Governor Gavin Newsom.
After years of leading the charge to clear jail cells and close California prisons, Newsom is now channeling his inner Clint Eastwood.
Newsom’s remarks were made last week regarding $267 million in grants he intends to divvy up between 51 select law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices throughout California battle organized retail crime.
Rest assured Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon won’t likely see a dime although the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office should.
There is little doubt organized retail crime is a big and serious problem.
Manteca — one of the few jurisdictions in California that already dedicates a detective fulltime to organized retail crime and works closely with stores and other officers to build air tight slam dunk cases for the DA to prosecute — still bleeds heavily.
Interim Police Chief Steve Schluer knows firsthand that many organized retail criminals also are those wanted for violent acts such as assault, attempted murder, and rape.
That’s because the fairly effective Manteca Police organized crime retail effort has snagged more than a few suspects who were more than just shoplifters on steroids.
The California law that raised the threshold for “shoplifting” to go from a misdemeanor allowing only a ticket to be issued to become a felony coupled with the ease of disposing stolen goods on the internet and at traditional outlets such as flea markets has made organized attacks on stores a low-level risk, go to solution for criminals to make money.
And while Newsom said “enough with these brazen smash-and-grabs,” the money is intended to also target the much more low-profile but more to prevent organized efforts where two or more people work in concert to essentially systematically loot a store via less showy shoplifting.
The bulk of the $100 billion nationally in annual retail theft losses are more on the scale of the joker in Stockton who twice walked into a 7-Eleven across the street from that city’s police station and nonchalantly filled a garbage bag with goods to steal.
Manteca’s efforts were credited with Boot Barn executives to cement their decision to open a store here. It also prompted Ulta Beauty from dropping plans to put their Manteca location in consideration for being closed due to theft losses, severely damaging its profitability.
And let’s be clear.
The Manteca Police response was due to seeing crime committed in their community that was getting out of hand.
The state’s response is the threat organized retail crime is now posing to its bottom line in the form of the golden egg known as sales tax.
Brick and mortar retail generates $30 billion in sales tax a year in California. That’s more than a third of the general fund portion of the state budget.
It will also take more than money to solve the problem.
And we’re not talking sentencing laws and such.
The incessant rhetoric that is poisoning the well, so to speak, needs to be toned down.
Defund the police.
Let’s call it for what it really has done.
Demoralize the police.
And more precisely, it has turned off a lot of people away from considering law enforcement as a career path who could do the job.
Do not misunderstand.
There have been — and likely always will be — questionable people in the ranks of law enforcement just as there are in any other pursuits whether it is health care, teaching, assembling autos, civil rights attorneys, or any other pigeonhole you can list.
There are still a lot of men and women of solid character and sound judgment putting their lives on the line day in and day out.
But what has happened is a lot of people who would make good peace officers have steered clear of law enforcement as a career path.
It’s tough to pursue a job where those that wear a uniform are villainized non-stop and where all are judged by the sins of the few.
It’s always been that way.
But in the past four or so years with the endless echo chamber that is the internet, it has magnified both the problem as well as the frustrations of officers that don’t cross the line.
The worst part is the police reform movement that Black Lives Matter originally launched was never intended to rid the streets of police.
But one catchy sound bite phrase — defund the police — mouthed over and over again by those who gleefully believed cutting manpower and vilifying law officers non-stop was just what they wanted created fertile grounds for criminals to ply their trade.
The original call was for a rethink and adjustments of how we as a society tackled crime for an overall better community. It was not to make life easier for criminals and those that dabble in anarchy or channel Lord of the Flies mentality.
The bottom line is to make what Newsom called a “$267 million investment” work you needs boots on the ground in the form of more police officers, community service officers, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and jailers.
Who is going to fill those hoots — especially the frontline law enforcement personnel?
We’ve spent the last four years equating the concept of law enforcement with evil.
Little wonder the pool of potential police officers has shrunk leaving positions unfilled.
This, of course, isn’t as big a problem in many parts of the Central Valley as it is the coastal cities where restorative social justice was twisted to an extreme by the political ruling class.
Governor Newsom, bless his heart, has seen the light.
But in fairness to Newsom, he has always been closer to the middle than some of the extreme positions staked out by his colleagues.
Reality has made Newsom — who at the end of the day still has to govern — less hell-bent to empty jails.
That is a good thing.
Let’s just hope that political expediency doesn’t take our collective eyes off long-term solutions to prevent as many youth as possible from straying down the wrong path.