The smash-and-grab robbery this past weekend in the San Fernando Valley has understandably generated plenty of headlines. Dozens of criminals banded together to commit a violent retail riot at the Westfield Topanga Mall, stealing upward of $100,000 in goods, smashing display cases and reportedly spraying a guard with either mace or pepper spray.
That incident followed a similar flash-mob robbery a week earlier at the Americana at Brand mall in Glendale. There, a group of dozens of thieves stole upward of $300,000 in goods.
These scenes of lawlessness do no one any good. They are a slap in the face to the hardworking majority of Californians who do the right thing, and undermine public trust that wrongdoers will be held accountable for their actions.
Over the last decade, Californians have understandably, and rightly, supported and enacted criminal justice reforms across the state.
These reforms, ranging from downgrading certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors to shifting greater responsibility to the county level for incarcerating low-level offenders, have largely been justified. For too long, the state of California overly relied on incarceration and hasn’t put enough effort into crime prevention, mental treatment or recidivism reduction. Californians have made clear they want a more balanced justice system.
But unintended or unacceptable consequences should be taken seriously and addressed when there are clear links between reforms and increases in particular crimes. And to be clear, while some critics of those reforms are busy invoking Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot initiative that reduced a handful of property and drug crimes to misdemeanors, the San Fernando Valley and Glendale mall robberies are not in fact Prop. 47-related offenses. Definitionally, if you’re talking about robberies involving $100,000 to $300,000, you’re well past the $950 felony threshold outlined by Prop. 47.
Nor is it necessarily the case that such crimes would have been preventable without stricter penalties. Flash mob robberies have been seen across California but also across the country, in blue states and red states, in jurisdictions with progressive and conservative DAs. By their nature, flash mob robberies are difficult to anticipate or completely handle once they get going.
Even so, it is imperative, for the sake of public confidence in law enforcement, the rule of law and the criminal justice system, that these incidents are taken seriously and punished accordingly.
Security, the enforcement of the law and the investigation of crimes are core functions and expectations of government. If governments fail to fulfill their core responsibilities, what’s the point of having them?
To their credit, Glendale Mayor Mayor Brotman, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón issued forceful condemnations of the crimes and vowed to take action. Gascón rightly denounced the incidents as “unacceptable behavior in a civilized society.”
“The Los Angeles Police Department will continue to work to not only find those responsible for this incident but to prevent these attacks on retailers from happening in the future,” promised Mayor Bass.
“This coordinated crime challenges our values, but our determination to uphold safety and unity is resolute. Together, we’ll ensure that such incidents do not define us,” said Mayor Brotman.
Good on them. Now it’s time we all ensure they back up their talk with action.