By Ailan Evans
California Democrats are toughening their stance on crime amid increasing violence and homicides, with many politicians pledging to invest in law enforcement.
Crime in California has skyrocketed over the past two years, with homicides in San Francisco jumping 15% in 2021 compared to 2020, and over 50% compared to 2019. Statewide, homicides, property crime, violent crime and larcenies have all risen since before the pandemic.
Retail thefts in particular have plagued the state, most notably in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where organized gangs of criminals will break into and loot storefronts of their merchandise.
In Los Angeles, city councilmembers have begun redirecting funds from their districts to pay for police overtime in a bid to quell the rising crime, The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. Councilman Joe Buscaino, a Democrat, spent $1.3 million from his district’s coffers to pay for police overtime, while fellow Democratic Councilman Paul Koretz spent $90,000 and requested an additional police presence to handle crime in the upscale Melrose Avenue area of Los Angeles.
“Once we had the issue of a lot of folks coming to Melrose to do crime, we said, ‘We have to hit this with everything we have,’ so we put in some extra funding,” Koretz told The Times. “They gave us foot patrols and bike patrols and undercover folks and horse patrols.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed pledged to significantly boost the police presence in the high-crime Tenderloin neighborhood, calling for increased funding for police overtime and efforts to crack down on drug dealing in the area.
In a message posted to her blog Tuesday, Breed expanded on her plans to reduce crime in the city which included “securing emergency police funding to ensure we have the resources to combat major safety problems over the next several months,” as well as plans for “disrupting” organized retail thefts that have been plaguing San Francisco.
“It comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city,” Breed told reporters Tuesday.
Breed had previously signed a budget defunding the San Francisco Police Department and other law enforcement agencies by roughly $120 million following the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. Breed said the move would be “prioritizing investments in the African American community” instead.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting he fund an initiative by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to use license plate readers and technology that captures a vehicle’s description to catch criminals fleeing Oakland with stolen merchandise, as well as use the state’s retail theft unit to combat the city’s rising larcenies. Schaaf argued that criminals were using stolen cars to carry out the thefts, and absconding on Oakland’s off-ramps to evade police.
“This year, Oakland has experienced more combined shootings and homicides than we’ve seen in over a decade,” Schaaf wrote, arguing that “the need for a system that can capture vehicle descriptions and alert law enforcement” has never been more apparent.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the formation of a CHP task force to crack down on organized retail theft, convening with retailers, online platforms which often serve as places to resell stolen goods, and law enforcement officials to develop a strategy to end the retail crime epidemic.
“The coordinated criminal activity we’ve seen in retail stores and online through the resale of stolen goods isn’t shoplifting or petty crime, it’s organized crime, and it’s going to take an organized strategy to put a stop to it,” Bonta said.
Bonta’s efforts follow an initiative announced by Newsom in late November to increase state police funding in order to combat the retail crime gangs.
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