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Thomas Gallatin / Mar. 2, 2020

Californians Suffering the Consequences of Prop 47

The state's artificial reduction of the seriousness of crime only encouraged its growth.

Bad ideas, no matter how popular or vociferously promoted, will inevitably lead to tragedy and ruin. Or, as the old adage states, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Back in 2014, Californians passed Proposition 47, a bill touted as a means to cut law-enforcement costs and free up funding for crime prevention and drug-treatment programs. In order to cut law-enforcement costs, Proposition 47 downgraded numerous crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, so crimes like shoplifting, fraud, writing bad checks, and even (temporary) grand theft auto no longer rise to the level of felonies. The resulting change meant that if a thief stole no more than $950 value in property and was later apprehended, he would essentially skate with no more than a small fine or at most a brief stint in jail. Furthermore, since DNA is not collected for misdemeanor offenses, the state’s DNA database, an important and effective tool in solving and prosecuting violent crimes like murders and rapes, has shrunk.

Another unintended but entirely predictable outcome of Prop 47 is its disincentive of law enforcement to respond aggressively or at all to what is now classified as petty crime. How the theft of nearly a thousand dollars does not rise to the level of significant crime only makes sense if an individual is astronomically wealthy; for most Californians, $1,000 is still a sizable sum. And this misdemeanor-level theft has become an increasingly common problem that only seems to be getting worse.

As the president of one San Francisco condo association exasperatedly observed: “Every bicycle in our building has been stolen. I’ve caught so many people stealing packages. They don’t care. They know nothing will happen to them. It’s crazy. It’s horrible. I feel like these people need to go to jail.”

National Review noted back in 2018 that many Californians were getting fed up but were unfortunately focusing their ire on the wrong culprit — law enforcement: “During a recent gathering in San Francisco’s Russian Hill — a beautiful neighborhood that boasts that famous crooked street, Lombard (now infamous for being haunted by rings of gang members who break into cars, steal tourists’ belongings, and relieve news crews of equipment) — an older gentleman who was born and raised in the city now says he feels like a prisoner in his home, afraid to leave. Officers, who are doing their best, urge residents to call the police and report crimes. Yet people are acutely aware that even if they do, justice won’t be served. So they direct their rage toward the police with a ‘you’re not doing your job!’ No one leaves happy.”

Shoplifting has become such a problem in San Fransisco that stores have stopped stocking shelves with goods as a measure to combat constant theft. Residents have also stopped locking their cars and instead place signs in their car windows that read “unlocked no valuables inside” to prevent thieves from smashing car windows.

What motivates this type of disregard for private property and law and order? The insidious doctrine of “fairness” based upon the envious assumption that if someone has more than another it can only be attributed to injustice. This is the same type of thinking behind the socialism of Bernie Sanders, who bases his dangerous, false, and hypocritical policy agenda upon calls for “fairness.”

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