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California Governor Signs Law Aimed at Stopping “Organized Retail Crime” California Governor Signs Law Aimed at Stopping “Organized Retail Crime”

Steven R. Andrade Aug. 13, 2021

On July 21st, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 331—a law focused on stopping organized retail theft crimes. Among other things, the legislation extends the sunset date of the organized retail crime law and reauthorizes funding for the CHP's Organized Retail Crime Task Force. Here, our Santa Barbara theft crimes defense lawyer highlights the key things to know about the new California law.

What is Organized Retail Crime (ORC)?

Organized Retail Crime or “ORC” is a type of organized theft crime involving two or more individuals. In effect, it is a type of organized or even “professional” shoplifting. It can involve anything from cargo theft to retail crime rings. The total cost of organized retail crime is significant. The industry estimates that billions of dollars of merchandise are lost due to organized theft nationwide each year.

Know the Charge: Organized Retail Theft

The crime of “organized retail theft” went on the books in California as of January 1st, 2019. AB 331 extends the sunset date for the statute. Under California Penal Code § 490.4, organized retail theft occurs when two or more people work together to steal or facilitate the theft of retail merchandise, either in a physical store or online.

Organized retail theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense depending on the specific circumstances. Prosecutors have some discretion when pursuing charges under this statute.

Theft Crimes on The Rise During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Notably, there is evidence that crime increased during the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic put a lot of emotional stress and financial strain on people throughout California. Earlier this year, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office reported a shocking 73% year over year increase in motor vehicle theft in 2020. Overall, theft crimes were up by 27% in Santa Barbara County.

How the California Retail Crime Task Force Works

By signing AB 331 into law, Governor Gavin Newsom has extended authorization for the California Highway Patrol's Organized Retail Crime Task Force until January of 2026. The task force is a department that works directly with local law enforcement agencies across California. The primary goal of the task is to help reduce organized retail crime. Among other things, the CHP's Organized Retail Crime Task Force:

  • Collaborates with local police and prosecutors to identify organized retail theft rings;

  • Collaborate with retail industry leaders to help stores strengthen their policies;

  • Operates an internet platform to allow consumers and retailers to report tips; and

  • Partners with local agencies to ensure officers are well-trained on organized retail crimes.

Call Our Santa Barbara Criminal Defense Attorney Today

At Andrade Law Offices, our Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyer has the skills and experience to handle the full range of theft charges. If you or your loved one was arrested and charged under California's organized retail crime law, we can help. Contact our firm today for a confidential consultation. We provide criminal defense services throughout Santa Barbara County.