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Newsom’s California is a mess of crime and a huge warning to the nation

OpinionNewsom’s California is a mess of crime and a huge warning to the nation

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As California Governor Gavin Newsom not so subtly presents himself as a presidential candidate-in-waiting, he has taken to calling our state a “a model for the nation.” Nothing could be further from the truth. A striking example is the breakdown of law and order in California during Newsom’s governorship.  

The situation is so dire that Newsom himself recently announced a “law enforcement surge operation” in Oakland to try to restore some semblance of order. Yet the rampant crime in that city is nothing new. It can be traced back to 2014, when Newsom and other California political leaders supported a new law called Proposition 47, the so-called “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”  

Prop. 47 took a hatchet to the state criminal code. It reclassified a number of offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, including shoplifting and related theft offenses, along with the use of drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The result, over the last decade, has been chaos in California’s streets – with soaring homelessness, rampant theft and an overdose epidemic.  


At the moment, roughly half the unsheltered homeless in the entire country are in California. Proposition 47 is largely to blame. By reclassifying offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Prop. 47 thrusts many individuals into a never-ending cycle of homelessness.  

California jewelry store workers punch, kick smash and grab robbers

Surveillance video from Princess Bride Diamonds shows workers fight off smash and grab robbers at Bella Terra mall in Huntington Beach, California in May 2022. (Princess Bride Diamonds)

With limited housing availability, treatment options and community-based support systems, many prisoners who were released early became homeless and struggled to reintegrate into society. 

In the decade before Prop. 47’s enactment, the state homeless population decreased by 38.5%; in the decade since, it has steadily increased while the national average has remained constant or gone done. Last year’s homeless count represented a 40% increase in just the last five years, despite the state record spending on homelessness and declaring a state of emergency on homelessness. 

Proposition 47 has also led to a rampant increase in theft throughout the state. Reclassifying many of California’s theft-related felonies to misdemeanors, and doing away with increased consequences for habitual shoplifters, has predictably emboldened thieves.  

Stealing merchandise less than $950 is now a low-level misdemeanor that usually does not even result in an arrest. Individuals are cited and released, with no increased consequences for “frequent fliers.” 

Perversely, many of these repeat offenders are stealing in order to buy hard drugs. It has become common to see thieves enter large box retailers, steal items, turn around and sell those items on either Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Offer Up, and then use the proceeds to buy heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.  

This has made many items prime targets for theft due to their accessible re-sale markets, like tools, Legos, vacuums, appliances and basic household items. To combat this trend, we now see stores locking up these goods, with large cages and pick-proof locks for razors, baby formula, soap, shampoo, clothes and Stanley cups. 

Many businesses, especially big-box stores, have simply stopped reporting the thefts. In fact, theft related crimes reclassified under Proposition 47 are so underreported that experts have labeled the data unreliable.  

To add insult to injury, politicians in Sacramento shamelessly point to the official theft numbers as an excuse for not taking action, while citizens deal with locked containers and cages for basic grocery store items. 

SF Homelessness

Early in the morning at the intersection of Jones and Turk Streets Urban Alchemys Danielle LeBlue calls the police when a homeless person still remains asleep as the sidewalks are cleaned in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, California Wednesday January 26, 2022. (Getty Images)

The darkest consequence of Proposition 47 has been the surge in overdose deaths throughout the state. In 2021 alone, there were 10,898 drug related overdoses in California, 7,175 of which were opioid related. In Sacramento, California’s capital city, deaths among the homeless have nearly tripled in the last decade, with nearly half attributable to drug use.  


Prop. 47 made hard drugs cheap and accessible, without any incentive or requirement for treatment. Individuals found in possession of hard drugs are misdemeanor offenders who, when convicted, receive one-year of informal probation, without any form of drug treatment program. Before Prop. 47, California had drug courts for crimes of simple possession, yet these programs no longer exist.  

To this day, Newsom stands by Prop 47. But Californians have taken matters into their own hands. We are closing in on the signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that will give voters the chance to end the Prop 47 era.  

Proposition 47 has also led to a rampant increase in theft throughout the state. Reclassifying many of California’s theft-related felonies to misdemeanors, and doing away with increased consequences for habitual shoplifters, has predictably emboldened thieves.  

The measure is called The Homeless, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act. It increases consequences for habitual shoplifters, mandates treatment for hard drug users, allows those who enter treatment to have their charges dismissed, and implements greater consequences for hard drug dealers. 


If this measure passes, it will go a long way toward improving the quality of life in California. It will also send an important message to the rest of the country about the reckless agenda that has degraded our state. When it comes to public safety, Gavin Newsom’s California is far from a model for the nation. It is a warning to the nation. 

Vern Pierson is the district attorney of El Dorado County and past president of the California District Attorneys Association.



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