June 16, 2024
Silicon Valley state Sen. Dave Cortese's SB 553 would ban requirement of regular retail workers to confront suspected shoplifters.

While California has a long, sad history of poorly thought-out laws often passed for reasons of ideology, there is no way state legislators can pretend after passage that they weren’t warned about the current SB 553, the brainchild of Silicon Valley state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose.

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His measure, which had a committee hearing just three days after a flash mob of 30 or more men and women pulled a snatch-and-grab robbery of a Nordstrom store AT the Westfield Topanga Mall in the Canoga Park section of Los Angeles, passed the Senate on a 29-8 vote as a worker safety measure.

It aims to prohibit employers from requiring regular retail workers, but not designated security personnel, to confront active suspected shoplifters. Because of designated security personnel’s expense, though, relatively few stores have them.

The very minimal consequence of this proposed new law would be that retailers of all types will keep almost all goods of significant value behind locked glass panels, thus preventing shoppers from examining possible purchases except under supervision and preventing many customers in grocery and drug stores from scrutinizing ingredient lists.

It promises to make shopping a stark, inauspicious experience. Cortese says his bill aims to protect retail employees from violence by relieving them of any responsibility to confront thieves, even if that’s the job they were hired for.

“With growing awareness of workplace violence,” he said, “California needs smarter guidelines to keep workers safe … .” Cortese says all employers would be required to train every worker on how to react to active shoplifting. “Let’s take every step to prevent another workplace assault or shooting,” he added.

Retailers say the real-life consequence will amount to an open invitation for thieves to take whatever they like, though, just like the latest large flash mob, which stole more than $100,000 worth of jewelry and designer goods from the Topanga Mall Nordstrom and then fled in a fleet of cars reportedly including multiple luxury BMW and Lexus vehicles.

If legislators pass the Cortese bill, they won’t be able to shrug this off by saying they weren’t forewarned. That’s because about 500 small business owners traveled to Sacramento from points like Fresno, Modesto and the North Bay near San Francisco to protest SB 553 and urge legislators to protect small businesses, not their predators.

“SB553 will create a field day for criminals to sue small business owners, giving criminals the double jackpot to steal from the business … and again by suing them in a shakedown lawsuit,” said one demonstration organizer. “All Californians will pay the price for billions of dollars lost to growing retail theft.”

That statement is obviously correct on its very face. The fact that the world’s most shoplifted Walgreen’s remains open in San Francisco is some kind of business miracle, and no one can be sure how long it will stay open.

A former Westfield Mall on that city’s busy Market Street became so vacant of stores because of theft and other business impediments that it was turned back over to the lender, with the lease holder not bothering to wait for foreclosure. The demonstrating business owners also asked why, when California has more worker safety measures in place than any other state, it needs more new rules.

“(Legislators) should focus on protecting the public and businesses from violent criminals whose only intent is to steal merchandise,” the organizer added. “Let’s not do more to destroy the quality of life in our once-great state.”

However, just as police say last year’s SB 357, forbidding arrests for loitering to solicit sex, has created open season for pimps to further exploit prostitutes, so SB 553 could create an open season for thieves to ransack just about any store they please.

Isn’t it about time legislators stepped back before knee-jerk voting for things that may look like mere do-gooder plans? If they did, they might actually realize their votes have real-world consequences.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected], and read more of his columns online at californiafocus.net.