New California epidemic — mass looting (Opinion)

Vern Pierson
Guest column

Sadly, we keep seeing stories in the news about mass looting crimes that are hard to fathom.

In San Francisco recently several stores in Union Square were looted and vandalized by a large group of young men. One day later, up to 80 armed criminals in ski masks pulled up in 25 cars, blocked the streets and went on a mass looting spree at Nordstrom in an upscale area of Walnut Creek.

The very next day, another group of men stole $40,000 worth of merchandise from a store in San Jose.

Vern Pierson

Gov. Gavin Newsom has stated that a new organized retail theft law he signed in 2021 is a great example of being tough on crime. But, under this new law, even if the suspects are caught these recent crimes are all misdemeanors unless the defendants have prior convictions. And, even if the suspects are charged, Assembly Bill 3234 signed by Newsom in 2020 provides that most misdemeanors are eligible for pre-plea diversion. Lastly, even if these suspects are caught, charged with misdemeanors and did not get diversion, Assembly Bill 1950, another new law signed by Newson in 2020, limits the length of probation to one year.

In response to all the recent mass looting events, Newsom said, “… the mayors need to step up.” Attempts to shift the blame and monumental changes in the criminal justice system with recent lenient laws like these have helped contribute to the problems we now see in San Francisco and around the state.

In El Dorado County we are just a 100 miles away, but worlds apart. According to 2019 numbers from the Public Policy Institute of California, San Francisco has a rate of 676 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. El Dorado County has 169 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, third lowest in the state.

But, similar to a viral epidemic, we can’t pretend that what happens in the Bay Area or around the state does not have any impact on El Dorado County. In 2015 a defendant fleeing from a carjacking in Oakland drove up to El Dorado Hills and attempted another carjacking of two young women, killing one of them. In 2016 multiple defendants from the Bay Area set up a large drug deal in South Lake Tahoe, ultimately leading to the murder of one man.

Like a virus, crime can spread.

The root cause for the increase in crime is not always easy to pin down. The increasing homeless and drug addiction epidemics in California are clearly a major part of the problem. There is no question that after years of criminal justice “reform” measures by lawmakers in Sacramento that there is now a revolving door for repeat offenders who once faced jail time. Right now, far too many in our state endlessly seek ways to reduce the consequences for crime while ignoring the growing and troubling impact on victims and the safety of our communities.

We must attempt to reverse any perception by those who repeatedly commit these crimes that there will not be a price to pay. We must continue seeking creative ways to rehabilitate and treat those with addiction and mental illness, but to deny the more lenient options for those who repeatedly victimize our communities. And we must continue to fight for victims’ rights under Marsy’s Law — a law created in 2008 because victims of crime said their pain was magnified by a system that puts criminals’ rights ahead of the rights of innocent victims. Mass looting is just the most recent symptom of a growing epidemic of criminal justice reform that ignores victims and public safety.

Vern Pierson is the El Dorado County District Attorney

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