Expertise in Action

Charis Kubrin

Kubrin impresses Little Hoover Commission with retail-theft presentation

After explaining her extensive research showing no correlation between criminal justice reform measures and crime in California, UC Irvine criminology, law and society Professor Charis Kubrin offered recommendations about recent trends in retail theft to the Little Hoover Commission during a Jan. 24 video hearing.

Rolling back incarceration sentencing reforms for low-level crimes is not the answer, Kubrin told the independent state oversight agency that has investigated California government operations and policies since 1962. She instead seconded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for new government legislation expanding some criminal penalties and bolstering police and prosecutor tools to combat theft and stop professional criminals who profit from smash and grabs, retails theft and car burglaries.

“Supplementing this legislative framework with more localized solutions is critical, such as identifying targeted solutions reflecting what crime data suggest is happening on the ground,” Kubrin explained. “When it comes to retail theft, is the (local) problem one of shoplifting, commercial burglary, commercial robbery, organized retail theft, or something else? Toward that end, local task forces comprised of diverse constituents are one useful approach. The state’s Organized Retail Theft Prevention Grant Program, where significant funding offers a boost for local organized retail crime task forces in place (or to help create task forces for that specific purpose) can be immensely helpful to tackle the problem once identified.”

Kubrin, who submitted written support to back up her verbal presentation, additionally recommended better regulating of online marketplaces to prevent the sale of stolen goods; sharing information and problem solving across agencies; and, using the full extent of existing misdemeanor and felony charges as well as accelerating misdemeanor court dockets.

“Of course, these recommendations depend on a clear understanding of the specific ‘crime problem,’ which itself cannot be determined absent good data,” Kubrin cautioned. “In the case of organized retail theft, these data do not exist. Thus, another recommendation is that we collect systematic data on organized retail theft moving forward rather than rely solely on figures provided by the retail industry.

She called for prioritizing “front-end solutions,” or those related to crime prevention, rather than simply rely on “back-end solutions,” such as tough-on-crime policies and incarceration.

For instance, some prosecutors and commentators have suggested gutting Proposition 47, the ballot measure California voters passed in November 2014 that made some non-violent property crimes, where the value does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors. The initiative also created a Safe Neighborhoods and School Fund from the savings the government realized from keeping fewer people behind bars. Kubrin suggested directing money from the fund to retail crime prevention efforts.

“In short, the state should invest in smart safety programs with a proven track record,” she said.

Kubrin, who elicited many comments and questions from commissioners than any other presenter, made at least one fan at the hearing.

“UCI should be very proud,” said Gil Garcetti, who was the Los Angeles County district attorney from 1992 until November 2000 and is the father of Eric Garcetti, the former L.A. mayor who is now the U.S. ambassador to India. “They should be proud of you for the quality of your work, number one, and for your ability to communicate. You are a very effective communicator, both in terms of your writing and your presentation. So, I want to compliment you on that.”

Read the transcript of Kubrin’s presentation to the Little Hoover Commission.

— Matt Coker