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Denial: A Cure for Crime and Everything that Ails You

Posted on 11/13/14 12:38 PM

A man walks into the doctor’s office and the doctor inquires, “what’s the problem?”

“It’s my arm, doc. It hurts when I move it.”

The doctor considers the issue for a moment and then responds, “well don’t move it.”

bigstock-Prison-interior-46421167If you are unaware, the State of California and its voters provided a similar patch to their crime issue. With the passage of Proposition 47, many crimes, including shoplifting and drug possession have been reclassified as misdemeanors. Read all the details here

Proponents such as Lynne Lyman, state director of the National Drug Policy Alliance said, "We are hoping it will signal that we don't need to be so tough on crime all the time.” So in other words…stop moving your arm.

One can understand that California, with its prison overcrowding problem and general financial crisis, would seek solutions. Certainly the tax payers are amicable to any path that might relieve the exhaustive tax burdens they carry. One might also pontificate and theorize about the benefits of the decriminalization or legalization of certain “recreational” and “non-addictive” substances. An argument can be made that “smoking pot” hurts only the smoker, but that is hardly the situation when a state decriminalizing victim related acts as Prop 47 does in the case of property crime and shoplifting.

It appears that California has decided to differentiate between criminals and, well “real” criminals. And anyone who steals less that $950 of your stuff isn’t a real criminal. They have, regardless of the cost or burden on the legal owner of the property, only committed a misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of no more than one year in jail. And, as most professionals and law enforcement folks know, such a reclassification means these crimes will not get any serious attention in the judicial system. For California, that will certainly reduce the court traffic and prison over population problem. Unless of course, such crimes actually are gateways to larger crimes in which case they are solving today’s problem at the cost of tomorrow. In my opinion, it’s sort of like blaming weight gain on the unfair clothes sizing strategies of retailers and not on the dozen donuts I eat for breakfast. In California, prison populations aren’t the problem; they are simply the result of a crime rate problem (According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report in 2012 California’s burglary, property and theft rates were 20% above the national average per 100k people.)

Loss prevention professionals and anyone who has been a victim understands that the classification of a crime plays a role in both the resources to combat it and the efforts placed on resolution. Police agencies are overworked and mostly understaffed. They have to focus on larger crimes. It’s why police don’t spend a lot of time fighting the rampant “jay-walking” and “littering” crime sprees. Reclassification of shoplifting and general larceny creates the perception that these crimes are “no big deal.” This inevitably will result in less attention paid to, what for retailers is, a thirty-something billion dollar a year problem.

Whether or not this reclassification will increase property related crimes is uncertain. Certainly, the average honest citizen will not suddenly engage in criminal activity—an arrest is an arrest regardless of it being a misdemeanor or felony. Additionally, criminals with glorious rap sheets don’t tend to worry too much over the classifications unless it is related to mandatory sentencing or “three-strikes.” It is therefore possible that the new classification will reduce prison population without any increase in the actual number of incidents. Possible…but not probable.

The discussion is not new. Calvin Hobbes and John Locke made their arguments in the 17th century. I, as many law abiding citizens, agree with Mr. Hobbes who wrote, “A dissolute condition of master-less men, without subjection to laws and a coercive Power to tie their hands from rapine and revenge would make impossible all the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends.” Perhaps the decriminalization of property theft is an overreach to Hobbes’ argument. And perhaps we, as a society, are best served focusing our resources toward the bigger criminal issues. Except, true crime reduction seems to occur when we get tougher on crime, not weaker.

Although people who think “love and understanding” is the cure dispute the results, The Broken Window Theory  has worked well at reducing crime in many large cities. In short, when we focus on the small crimes, we prevent the larger crimes from occurring. Prop 47 serves as the antithesis to this practice. It suggests that arrests and incarceration are the problem, not the crime itself. One thing that is certain is the correlation between theft rates and public costs. In retail, rising losses are paid for by first the employees and then the consumers. And several studies have revealed that property crime rates have a direct impact on home values as you can see in this particular study.

Perception is at the core of the issue. People don’t judge their personal losses in terms of the legal charge—misdemeanor or felony, “the guy stole my television.” And when property crimes in an area rise, the corresponding feelings of loss of safety and “the neighborhood is going to hell” result in the law-abiding citizens fleeing to safer areas. Which creates declining real estate values. Decriminalization of drugs and property crime places more criminals on the street, which in turn will create a rise in crime. Regardless of California’s decision to mask the data through declassification efforts, the effect will be negative for home and business owners. The net result may be a reduction in prison costs that is outpaced by rising retail prices, lower home values, departing citizens, and thus a smaller tax base. It’s an interesting experiment for a state already experiencing a negative net migration of 100,000 in the past few years.

It seems a little odd to enact policies that hurt rather than help honest, hard-working residents. And although most people in California would appreciate lower housing costs, probably not at the expense of higher crime rates.

As a loss prevention professional I am appalled by Prop 47. Companies already invest heavily in protecting their merchandise and this change hurts retailers by minimizing the perception that their losses are of any consequence. The cost of a free ride for criminals will be paid for by the people who work in the retail industry in terms of pay, benefits and opportunities and by the consumer who will be expected to pay for higher losses.

As a citizen I am ever so grateful I do not live in California. It seems disingenuous for a state to determine that the value of my property, the right I have to be protected, and my status as a victim is of less value than the false hope reflected in the statement, “we don’t need to be so tough on crime all the time.” As if such leniency will create a better, gentler society. As if forgiveness of crime or the denial and rebranding will decrease crime rates anywhere but on the blotter where such things are tracked.

But, hey I’ve decided to give it a shot. In my own house we have passed Prop 47A, whereas Cake will now be reclassified as a vegetable. In that way I can eat all the Cake I want because through our new definition it is now a part of a healthy lifestyle that promotes weight loss…I can hardly wait to buy smaller clothes.

In California, putting criminals back on the street will solve the prison population problem. I think Ms. Lyman will get her wish as she “hopes we’re setting a precedent for the nation.” Indeed, I definitely think California is setting a precedent, one they could observe by driving over to Hollywood to watch the Forest Gump reel… because truly…. “Stupid is as stupid does.”

 

Topics: loss prevention, Retail, Victim

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