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Lawmakers Gut Bill That Would Have Kept Workers from Confronting Shoplifters
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Published 11 months ago on
August 29, 2023

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Lawmakers removed language in a controversial bill that would have limited how workers can approach shoplifters — and which business owners say would have encouraged even more theft.

Senate Bill 553’s previous version made national news when business advocates said the bill was a continuation of California’s lax-on-crime approach to justice.

The bulk of the bill — authored by State Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose — aimed to prevent workplace violence. But a clause in the bill would have forbidden workers from confronting suspected shoplifters.

But this week, after Cortese met with business owners, the proposed law no longer maintains that restriction, according to a source familiar with the matter speaking on background.

Now, it only requires that staff know how to contact law enforcement or security in response to workplace violence.

“We are proud to report that we listened to businesses and workers to collaborate on SB 553. All employers, including retail employers, should have a plan in place to help prevent and respond to every type of violence through their Cal/OSHA workplace violence prevention plan,” Cortese said in an email to GV Wire. “Furthermore, SB 553 sets a framework for a more collaborative process through Cal/OSHA to find more solutions that protect workers and business assets.

Convenience Store Owners Vocal About SB 553

Members of the American Petroleum & Convenience Store Association met with Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama last week to discuss how Senate Bill 553 could increase shoplifting and cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars at gas stations and convenience stores throughout Fresno.

Andy Chhikara is the president of the Fresno chapter of the Convenience Store Association. He also owns Get-N-Go Food Store in southeast Fresno.

He met with Cortese about the law, telling him the impact the law would have on small business owners.

He says a lot of crime comes from the nearby junior high and high schools.

“These kids have no knowledge, they’re doing it for fun,” Chhikara said. “If somebody passes a law that a person, a cashier cannot confront them, that’s all they’re going to remember.”

Chhikara: More Than Half of Retail Crime Goes Unreported

High-end retailer Nordstrom closed its flagship store in San Francisco’s Market Street on Sunday because of “unsafe conditions for customers, retailers and employees,” according to KRON 4, quoting San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey.

Old Navy, Banana Republic, Saks Off Fifth, and Anthropologie have all left, citing crime as at least one reason for departing the Bay Area, according to The Street.

Small businesses can absorb less loss than bigger retailers, Chhikara said.

In Fresno, Balderrama says commercial burglary is down 45%. Burglary is defined as when someone enters a building intending to steal something. Petty larceny, however, has increased 4%.

Chhikara said that data surprises him. Store owners report less than half the crimes that occur at their stores, largely because nothing gets done about it, he said.

“Online reporting that we were doing, even over $1,000 worth of things, nobody was coming and taking the report or the videotapes, or the proofs which we have,” Chhikara said.

Security Costs Businesses Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars Yearly

SB 553 originally required that theft be dealt with by trained experts.

Gas stations that hire security guards to be on site 24 hours a day spend about $30,000 a month, Chhikara said. That comes out to $360,000 a year.

“These stores don’t make $360,000,” he said. “It’s just a very sad situation.”

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