The world has no dearth of bizarre laws that make little sense. For instance, Singapore has a ban on chewing gum, sandcastles are strictly prohibited on the beaches of Italy, and people are not allowed to climb trees in Toronto! But while these come off as relatively harmless laws, there are also many others that become counter-productive.
A recent Amendment in the law on Shoplifting and Petty Thefts in the state of California extended the meaning of Petty Theft. It has redefined robbery in the state, declaring that any robbery that amounts to a value of under $950 is below the threshold of the criminal robber and therefore does not warrant a felony.
Earlier, the limit was $45o but has now been increased. But this has evidently proved to be counterproductive as this amendment has all hell broke loose in San Francisco, as well as several other places in California, with shop owners and residents complaining about the increasing menace of “rampant shoplifting and robberies”.
The Penal Code on Shoplifting 459.5 PC now reads, “the theft of money, labor, or property to be considered petty theft, punishable as a misdemeanor by up to 6 months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, whenever the value of the property taken does not exceed $950 or in other cases that are specifically defined as grand theft”.
Therefore, the crime is punishable by probation, fines, restitution, and up to 6 months in jail. But what is perplexing is that no action whatsoever is being taken against such “misdemeanor” anymore. “Prosecutors no longer charge shoplifting,” said Fox News in their daily night coverage, “so people steal whatever they want”.
In fact, it has led to Walgreens shutting down 17 of their stores in the Bay Area as they are unable to make any money, reported Daily Caller. The supermarket chain announced a rash of store closures due to rampant stealing. Several videos captured people casually shoplifting from the pharmaceutical chain, without being questioned or stopped by any authorities.
Ironically, it was the pharmaceutical megastore that became the object of criticism with this move. This because the crucial nature of the store makes it an essential service for people in the neighborhood to pick up necessary medications or get vaccinations. Some residents of the area even filed a petition against this move ahead of the date of closure which was 18th March 2021.
Bush Street Walgreens “has become a lifeline for many seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income residents who cannot go further out to other stores to get what they need. The other Walgreens that is 3 blocks away is not handicapped accessible and cannot accommodate people with disabilities,” according to the petition.
The store which has been most plagued by the new law reported at least 18 shoplifting, robbery and burglary incidents to the San Francisco Police Department between September and December of 2020, according to police data. The thieves brandished knives or other weapons, or assaulted an employee or guard, on some occasions. In many cases, they stole merchandise valued under $950, which is the threshold at which shoplifting becomes a felony charge.
While many people sided with the megastore seeing that there was little they could do but suffer losses. Beefing up a store or neighbourhood security in the scenario that the state law and order itself is limited in power, is of little use. But many opposed it saying, “Walgreens Corp. has an annual revenue of around $139.5 billion,” the petition says. “We think they can afford to keep needed stores like this open.”
It is most likely that this is the result of a wave of public opinion against harsh clamping down of petty thefts, which touted it as “criminalization of poverty”. While many people uphold the amendment saying that it is fair and speaks for free land, it cannot be denied, the widespread and indiscriminate jeopardy this has given rise to.
It is only a matter of time before it mushrooms into a major law and order predicament. The state is running a major risk with it, for there is the looming threat of these acts of larceny turning violent in nature. Meanwhile, it already is an eyesore to the shopkeepers and businesses of the state who have no one to turn to in the event of a burglary.