I do not know much about Jeffrey Alan Berry.
What I do know is far from impressive.
The 49-year-old Stockton man has been arrested four times so far by Ripon Police on charges of shoplifting at truck stops in that city.
Nothing of consequence has happened to the suspect save for being booked into San Joaquin County Jail and released.
This is due to three things. First the passage of Proposition 47 by voters in November 2014 changed the rules for charging people accused of stealing from stores. Before then, if a person entered a store with the intent to steal merchandise they could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Now if they do so during a store’s business hours it is classified only as shoplifting. The second is a state law sponsored by then Assemblyman Tom Ammiano in 2010 that increased the threshold for grand theft from $400 to $950. The other is court rulings regarding prison overcrowding based on standards adopted by the California Legislature. State standards is why federal courts can view overcrowding differently, as an example, in Arizona versus California.
This means shoplifting items less than $50 is now an infraction subject to fines up to $250.
If the goods stolen are less than $950 it is a misdemeanor. Such an act can be charged as infractions or as a misdemeanor that can carry a mandatory fine of between $50 and $1,000 and/or up to six months in county jail. When the shoplifting of goods exceed $950 the charge could be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. Shoplifting a firearm can get you up to three years in jail and other felonies involving shoplifting could get you up to a year in jail.
The odds of any convicted shoplifter doing much time behind bars in San Joaquin County is fairly slim given prison overcrowding has sent some who would have normally gone straight to prison such as some parole violators and those convicted of crimes considered more serious than shoplifting to county jails instead. That leaves little or no room for criminals that aren’t considered serious threats to life and property.
That means shoplifting — up to $949.99 per incident — has become a catch and release game.
All a suspect has to do is not use force against a person and to stop fleeing if a law enforcement officer orders them to do so. That way they can avoid battery and assault charges as well as resisting arrest charges that could land them into trouble with some sticking power.
What makes this all the more maddening is the California Legislature that holds the key to any solution acts as if it isn’t important enough to warrant their attention or is beyond their pay grade to do anything.
It is not alright that someone can essentially steal at will and have no real consequences save for the inconvenience of being transported to, booked at, and then released from the county jail in French Camp.
That’s why California needs special camps for repeat petty theft offenders.
If you are convicted of a second offense — and any thereafter — you get a six month sentence to a mobile work crew. The mobile work crew assignment would come complete with electronic monitoring devices and law enforcement guards. The crews would be sent to wherever there is a need for menial labor — the aftermath of floods or fires, litter cleanup, repairing trails, riverside restoration, state park maintenance or whatever else makes sense.
The crews would live in tents that they have to pitch and take down between job sites. They also would be responsible for their own cooking and such.
Consider it the new CCC. But instead of the California Conservation Corps it would be the California Criminal Corps. When they are not needed — or are between gigs — they can be based adjacent to standard county jails in fenced in areas where they would reside in the same tents that they ferry around with them.
Walk away from a CCC assignment or camp during your sentence and be convicted of such a crime you get an automatic six month stay in county jail — not a day less or a day more. If after a future sentence to the CCC you walk away again, you get a year’s time in state prison.
Now some will argue this is harsh. No problem. They can petition the state to temporarily “adopt” petty theft criminals and move them into their own households to help them avoid a CCC sentence.
Most people who are against jail time for such criminals obviously don’t have the joy of having to live in the same neighborhood with them. This way they can show the rest of the world they are wrong for insisting petty criminals pay society for the damage they are doing.
Petty theft is not harmless. They are stealing from not just the store which is often a mom and pop operation but also from customers that have to pay higher prices due to theft loss.
Research shows that the majority by far aren’t stealing to eat. They are doing so to support drug habits that in turn degenerates the quality of life of others.
Under the “adopt a petty theif” option those that believe that drug use has nothing to do with criminal activity can prove their theory by opening up their own home to the poor, misunderstood petty thieves that steal to support their habits.
They can prove the rest of us wrong that have to live in neighborhoods where petty theives and other criminals ply their trade so they can feed their habits to show that we are just reactionary folks these don’t have a heart.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.