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Homicides, Assaults and Shoplifting: Can Police Departments Address the Rising Crime Alone?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda-Marie Sundstrom and Mark Kling
July 16, 2021

In the months leading up to the summer of 2021, cities across the country experienced an increase in crime, including homicides, assaults and shoplifting. In Oakland, California, July 4th was one of the most violent days in recent memory. It was termed, “12-hours of non-stop chaos,” which resulted in 6 shootings in 6 hours, and caused police to move quickly from crime scene to crime scene. Resources were stretched, and, at one point, there were no ambulances available to treat the wounded. During the chaos, 200 armed attackers pelted police officers with debris. The violence continued throughout the night. During the same weekend, in a surge of shootings in Chicago, 19 people were killed and 100 were injured, including 13 children and 2 police officers. Los Angeles recorded an additional 12 homicides. This is only a small snapshot of the criminal activity that occurred in the country during the nation’s celebratory weekend.

Organized Retail Crime

On the West Coast, California cities including Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco are among the worse in the country for “Organized Retail Crime” (aka: professional theft rings). During the July 4th weekend in San Francisco, 9 suspects shoplifted large quantities of handbags from an open Neiman Marcus store in broad daylight. In San Francisco, shoplifting has reached unprecedented levels to the point that stores, such as Target and Walgreens, have resorted to closing early to help prevent shoplifting rings from stealing.

Impacts of These Crime Trends

Organized Retail Crime is resulting in widespread impacts throughout United States communities, including the need to shutter stores or reduce operating hours in high-risk areas. Consumers must travel further to shop and consumer prices increase to off-set store losses. But the causes of the escalation of crime are multi-faceted, and span across multiple sectors including the private sector, legislative branch, judicial branch and the administrative branch.

Private Sector

To decrease liability, many retail stores have established a “No Chase” policy that protects their employees from serious injury. In other words, if workers, or on-duty security officers, witness a shoplifter in action committing a “grab-and-run” of stolen merchandise—and the shoplifter makes it out of the store, employees cannot chase or attempt to apprehend the criminal. This policy inadvertently results in more brazen Organized Retail Crimes. Offenders know they just need to run from a store, and they will not be chased, and are unlikely to be apprehended.

Legislative Branch

Recently, in states like California, revised laws have changed the dollar amount for felony Grand Theft to $950. In other words, if a person steals less than $950 worth of merchandise, it is considered a misdemeanor, and those violators, if apprehended, merely receive a citation, and are then released. Many stores are reluctant to report shoplifting incidents to police for amounts less than $950, because it is unlikely suspects will be prosecuted.

Judicial Branch

In a growing number of cities, elected District Attorneys are prohibiting their Deputy District Attorneys from prosecuting crimes if the District Attorney personally disagrees with the law. Although it is the sworn responsibility for the District Attorneys to uphold the law, more and more are issuing decrees to their Deputy District Attorneys prohibiting them from prosecuting a variety of crimes, including criminal threats, trespassing and resisting arrest. 

Administrative Branch—Police

Law enforcement is caught between the: 1) Rule of Law, 2) Lack of charges being filed by the District Attorney’s Offices and 3) Community members who believe that certain behaviors should be void of consequences. As an example, drug possession is illegal (Rule of Law), but in some cities it is officially decreed that the DA will not charge the crime. Therefore, the police are faced with the dilemma of arresting someone for possession of drugs—for a crime that DA’s will not charge. Does the community want law enforcement to step-in to stop illegal (and often times violent) crime, or should the crimes be void of consequences and the police should “stand down” and not respond?

The Need for Community Discourse

Communities across the country deserve to prosper in a safe environment. The discussions on how to achieve safe communities generally involve representatives from the legislative, judicial and administrative branches. These discussions must continue, but one major stakeholder is oftentimes missing from the conversation—the community.

This missing stakeholder complicates the discussion because the community is currently divided on a variety of opinions. Some feel unsafe with the rising crime, increased homelessness and feeling that there is a growing disregard for the rule of law. Others believe that less police intervention and less prosecutions is the solution to achieving safer cities. Some believe that citizens should abide by the laws and take personal responsibility for their own actions. Others believe that some criminal acts, including homicides, assault and shoplifting may be justified.

Hence, real community discourse must be encouraged and include not only the branches of government, but also a strong cross-section of community representation so that all sides are considered. Only when this occurs will law enforcement agencies be in a better position to develop effective solutions in addressing violent crime trends.


Author:

Dr. Linda-Marie Sundstrom is a former Fulbright Scholar who taught Public Administration in Ukraine at a university under the Office of the Ukrainian President. She worked for two decades in local government and has taught in Master of Public Administration Programs for nearly two decades. She is currently the MPA Program Director for California Baptist University in Southern California. Email: [email protected]

Dr. Mark Kling has been in law enforcement for 34 years, 13 as police chief. He has taught both Public Administration and Criminal Justice courses for the past 20 years. He is currently the Criminal Justice Program Director for California Baptist University and came out of retirement to transition the Rialto Police Department to new innovative executive leadership. Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

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