California Senate Passes Bill Preventing Employees to Confront Shoplifters

Image: KTVU FOX 2

Last week, The California Senate passed a bill that makes it illegal for businesses to require their employees to confront shoplifters.

Senate Bill 553, introduced by State Sen. Dave Cortese (D-Cupertino), focuses on strengthening occupational safety by addressing workplace violence and expanding the scope of protection and prevention measures. If the bill is approved by the California State Assembly and subsequently signed into law by the Democrat governor Newsom, it will come into effect on January 1, 2024.

“What we’re saying in the bill is, it’s not ok for an employer to take a rank and file worker, somebody whose job is really something else, a reporter for example, and say ‘hey if there’s an intruder, we’re going to deputize you. You’ll be the one to intervene.’ People get hurt and oftentimes killed that way,” Cortese told KTVU.

Part of the measure would prevent companies from requiring their staff to confront active shooters or shoplifters.

The bill is introduced during a period when there is an increase in crime happening in retail stores since the enactment of criminal justice reforms. Many retailers are facing lower profits due to theft, especially organized retail crime. Additionally, there is a growing trend of violence associated with these theft incidents. Store owners are calling for more effective measures to prevent such crimes from happening.

According to Crosstown, there were 6,414 reported instances of shoplifting in 2022 in Los Angeles alone.

Starting in August and continuing into the first two months of 2023, there has been a notable increase in theft incidents, particularly in department stores. According to data from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), there have been 1,503 shoplifting cases reported in department stores during this period. The second-highest category affected is clothing stores, with 803 theft incidents.

These rising incidents of theft have resulted in significant economic losses for retailers, leading to the closure of some stores and the need for security adjustments in others.

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Around two weeks later, 24-year-old Banko Brown was shot and killed after a scuffle with a security guard in a San Francisco Walgreens. Still, over 50 organizations, including the California Retailers Association, (CRA) don’t support the bill.

“This bill goes way too far, number one, where I think it will open the doors even wider for people to come in and steal from our stores. Number two, Cal OSHA has been working on regulations for the past few years that all industries have been engaged in. We’d like to see Cal OSHA processes continue because we have been working with them,” said Rachel Michelin, CRA president and CEO.

The CRA says if SB 553 becomes law, it will need to apply to all industries and not just retail. They also say most retailers already prohibit regular employees from approaching anyone about stolen merchandise and have some employees who are trained in theft prevention.

“It says no employee can approach someone who is shoplifting. So even if someone is trained on how to deter someone from doing that, now they’re not allowed to approach someone. So, what does that mean? We are opening up the door to allow people to walk into stores, steal and walk out,” Michelin said.

Cortese says there may be some adjustments made to the bill as it heads to assembly policy committees. The bill has already passed the State Senate.

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