VACAVILLE (CBS13) — You’ve likely seen the videos on social media or the local news: groups of people rushing into a store, grabbing armfuls of merchandise. The brazen crimes are on the rise and CBS13 has learned, in most cases, the crooks get away from authorities. 

After searching police reports and arrest records, CBS13 found that while the rate of these grab and dash crimes is on the rise, the rate of arrest is down. We turned to law enforcement and the retail industry for answers. Both blame a California law intended to make “neighborhoods safe.”


“It’s a boldness like we’re seeing never before and just a disregard for fellow human beings,” said Lieutenant Mark Donaldson, Vacaville PD. 

He explained these crimes have evolved into more than just shoplifting. It’s organized retail theft and he says it’s happening across the state.  Cities like Vacaville, with outlets and shopping centers located near major freeways, tend to be a target for these organized retail crime rings. 

According to police data obtained by CBS13, there have been 746 reported retail thefts in Vacaville alone over the past year. More than half of those suspects got away.

Police say these suspects often target stores with easy access to get-away cars and with easy access on and off major freeways because crooks know most department policies won’t risk the dangers of a high-speed chase over a misdemeanor citation.

“They know the law,” Donaldson said. “One of the first things they ask us [is] ‘Can’t I just get a ticket so I can be on my way?’”

He explained many suspects know theft under $950 is now a misdemeanor, meaning most get a written citation, a court date and are released.  


Donaldson and the California Police Chief’s Association attribute the growing problem to Prop 47.

”I think if you would ask most in law enforcement, [it] has had a significant impact on why we’re experiencing this,” Donaldson said.

Prop 47, known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, passed in 2014. It was intended to keep non-violent criminals out of crowded prisons. And, among other things, the law more than doubled the amount a suspect could steal before facing a felony from $450 to $950. 

Since 2014, police records show the annual loss to retail theft in Vacaville has more than doubled. Records show reports of organized retail theft in Vacaville, crimes with multiple suspects, are up 40 percent this year compared to before Prop 47. 

FBI crime data also shows retail theft state-wide is up. The California Police Chiefs believe it’s because the penalties have gone down.  

“The consequences are so small in nature that it makes that risk worth it,” Donaldson explained. 

The National Retail Federation’s annual survey found in more than half the states with laws like Prop 47, when the felony threshold increases, so do losses to organized retail crime. 

According to the survey, “In states where the felony threshold has increased, over half report an increase in (organized retail theft) case value. None reported a decrease. It appears that criminals understand the new threshold and have increased their thefts to meet it.”


But prop 47 supporters note that crime is caused by many factors and they warn that statistics don’t prove Prop 47 is to blame. 

Thomas Hoffman, a retired police chief and former parole director for the state, represents the group that sponsored Prop 47. He noted that misdemeanors are eligible for up to six months of jail time. 

“The law is clear, they can be held accountable,” Hoffman said. 

He also pointed to the new “organized retail theft” law took effect this year that does allow cases with multiple suspects, or multiple stores, to be charged as a felony.

“And if that isn’t happening that’s not because of Prop 47, those are local decisions often made by DAs, city attorneys, whoever is in charge of prosecuting those cases,” Hoffman said. 


CBS13 reached out to the District Attorneys in more than half a dozen local counties and found, despite the increase in crime, only two DAs have charged anyone with a felony under the new law.

CBS 13 learned that there were at least 164 retail crime arrests involving multiple suspects in the first half of the year in Vacaville alone.

When we first reached out to the Solano County DA in August, they told us they had not charged anyone under the new Organized Retail Theft Penal Code – 490.4.

. At the time they said that no cases had been “referred to the agency” by officers under the new Penal Code.

However, about a month later, and the DA’s office told CBS13 they had since charged their first two cases under the new organized retail theft penal code.

Placer County told CBS 13 they had charged 5 cases under the new Penal Code.

READ ALSO: Organized Retail Crimes Cost U.S. Economy 47 Billion Dollars in 2018


But in order to be charged, the suspects have to be arrested. CBS13 also found that while the theft rate is up, the arrest rate is down.

Donaldson said there are many factors that go into to why suspects are not being captured more often. One significant factor: “there seems to be less and less store employees getting involved.”

The Police Chiefs Association points to a growing number of retailers with policies not to engage – or even report these crimes. The National Retail Federation said that the trend is due, in part, to policies focused on employee safety because of more aggressive shoplifters. 

“With the advent of more aggressive retail criminals, many retailers do not want their untrained non-loss prevention associates risking their personal safety while confronting suspected shoplifters,” said Robert Moraca, the Vice President Loss Prevention for the National Retail Federation. “We prefer that they observe and report incidents to their loss prevention or management team.”

We reached out to several major retailers and stores that have recently been robbed.  They confirmed the no-interference policy but several say they do report crimes to law enforcement after the fact. 

In most cases, employees are told to report theft to corporate loss prevention managers, who then compile video or evidence and later report the crimes to police. It is unclear how many of those cases, if any, are investigated by local authorities after the fact.

However, in light of the fact that many retail thefts are now only these are misdemeanors, law enforcement admits that they are not as likely to devote resources and man hours to tracking suspects down after the fact.


Vacaville crime data shows nearly half of those who were arrested for these crimes over the past year, 169 out of 372, were on parole, probation or had a warrant at the time of the crime. 

The Police Chiefs Association is now sponsoring legislation that would amend Prop 47, adding a felony for serial theft with a value of $250 below the pre-Prop 47 limits. 

“The Keep California Safe initiative would help California by revising the theft threshold, adding a felony for serial theft. The initiative would require that when a person is caught for the 3rd time stealing with a value of $250, it becomes a felony,” said Ronald A. Lawrence, CPCA President.

READ MORE: California Police Chiefs Associations Wants To Amend Prop 47 To Reinstate Felonies For Theft

Though supporters of Prop 47 argue that the existing Organized Retail Theft law is sufficient, it’s up to DAs to charge these crimes accordingly.

Julie Watts

Comments (11)
  1. miguel says:

    California lefty gov’t protects the criminals and not the citizens. Voters, when will you wake up? After something happens to you? it’s too late then !!!

  2. Guy Hurd says:

    The Democrat Party continues to ruin the country. Do YOU vote Democrat? Why?

  3. Solution would be to have automatic gates activated remotely that would come down on the outside of the entry door or entry doors close with a remote control with the employees. The only bad thing is that if they are locked in they would attack the employees and gain access to the remote.

  4. Dee Win says:

    File under: “You Can’t Fix Stupid”

  5. Donald G Schofield says:

    Hey, dummie, these aren’t “groups of people”…they are gangs of Blacks. Find on video of whites doing this…yeah, didn’t think so. It’s like in the jungle when one finds a banana tree that’s not guarded….they (the blacks) gang up and steal all the bananas.

  6. Douglas Campbell says:

    I voted against this proposition, because it’s obvious that people are smart enough to skirt the edge of any law. That’s why there are kids doing the shoplifting, and each kid is taking less than $900 worth of stuff. That’s the double whammy — juveniles receive lesser punishments if caught, and the law reduces the theft to a misdemeanor.

    We’ve already seen the results when a shopowner uses a firearm to halt the theft — the shop owner gets charged with manslaughter. Hence, shopowners are obliged to just stand by while the kids do the work their masters want them to do.

  7. Herald Newsbringer says:

    Democrats… smh. Now they’ll claim it’s racist if anyone attempts to crackdown on the crime they themselves were responsible for creating.

  8. John Torres says:

    Did the law “backfire” or is this what the lawmakers intended?

    After you see one anti-business bill after another get passed in Sacrament I just thought everyone knew that the politicians in California hate business.

  9. TMA1 says:

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhaha….Welcomr to the Commie S**T Hole of Lawless CA……..Murder your wife and Blame it on Trump – you will walk.
    Hahahahahahahahahhahahahhahahhahahhahha,,,Whatta fkn disgrace……..

  10. Gary Seven says:

    I believe that this is designed to force the 1/2 crazy liberals out of Commiefornia and infect the normal person states with the leading edge of Commie ideas. The more stupid crazy ideas are in tow of the 1/2 crazy ones. See how it works. My own state of Idaho will see 1/2 crazy laws being promoted and we lose our freedoms and the idiots take over. Pretty clever.

  11. Vincent M. says:

    I work retail Loss Prevention. I can attest it is the laws and police announcements that these idiots act on. It WOULD be prop 47 in this case. To prove that, prop supporters say it isnt, which is a scary thought when you realize how out of touch they are with consumers and thieves behavioral norms. I am not, and I will tell you criminals listen to the news heavy. I am dealing with massive theft due to the corona virus in Philadelphia…why? Because our new mentally ill police chief decided to announce no arrests for retail theft, car robbery, prostitution, etc. This is also the same lady whose ONLY OTHER ACT was allowing female officers to REINSTATE colored finger nails on duty. So politics only have a SLIGHT leverage in this.

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