With shoplifting in sharp focus by politicians and big business, there is no single solution to California's multi-headed hydra




Over the last couple of years, retail shoplifting has generated considerable attention in the media and, more significantly, among politicians. California has become a focal point in the issue. 

Videos of shoplifting swarms have gone viral, and the public has expressed understandable concern and rage. Politicians, being politicians, and big business, being big business, were bound to seize this opportunity to push agendas or shield themselves.

Locally, Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper has taken to social media to express his dismay. Cooper directed ire at Target in particular. 

The first-term sheriff said Target asked for help, but the retailer balked when the sheriff's department laid out their intentions. Nothing happened.

Cooper had a point - they asked for help but wanted to avoid any negative publicity. The retailer's arrest and surveillance conditions make you wonder if they are serious about reducing shoplifting or want to divert attention from their operational shortcomings. 

While retailers have blamed shoplifting for losses, the picture is not as simple as they would like you to believe. This Washington Post report highlights some of the shrinkage issues, including shoplifting, employee theft, and operational failures.  

As noted in the WaPo story:

"As shrink includes many things, including internal theft and items a retailer has lost, it is difficult to understand the true scale and impact of crime," said Neil Saunders, managing director of the analytics company GlobalData Retail. "This gives rise to a view that some retailers are hiding poor performance behind the excuse of crime."

So, are retailers exploiting viral videos to shield themselves from the scrutiny of Wall Street hedge fund managers?

Back to politicians, specifically Sherriff Cooper. With over a 30-plus years career in the sheriff's department, there is no reason to doubt Cooper's sincerity in addressing public safety. 

But we should always remember Cooper is also an elected official. As such, Cooper, as a politician with a law enforcement orientation, will not let this crisis go to waste.

Cooper has suggested that reforms under the voters-approved Proposition 47 be repealed. Along with several politicians, Cooper has argued raising the felony theft level from $450 to $950 has unleashed the wave of shoplifting. 

As noted in this study, politicians blaming Prop 47 are not painting a realistic picture. It is also worth noting California's threshold, which is the 10th most strict in the country, while Texas has the highest threshold at $2,500 for felony theft.  

Given a well-documented conservative state like Texas has the most liberal threshold at $2,500, simply raising California's threshold and arresting more people for felonies is not an end to all. Likewise, large-scale retailers appear to be using shoplifting as a crutch to mask their operational deficiencies.  

Shoplifting in California is a multi-headed hydra with no one simple cause or solution. Remember this as politicians make their pitches in the coming election year, and businesses deflect blame while making their quarterly reports.  


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