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Property crimes are taking a toll on California businesses. Lawmakers need to step up

This story appeared on Calmatters

A security guard stands outside the heavily boarded Shreve & Co. jewelry store in San Francisco on Dec. 2, 2021. Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo

In summary

The increase of property crimes in California hurts not just businesses but workers and customers alike. A retail manager from Southern California says state policymakers need to step up and enact solutions that bolster security and ensure public safety.

Guest Commentary written by

Martha Lehnen

Martha Lehnen

Martha Lehnen is a general manager of a Camping World store in Southern California.

For more than 17 years, I have been a dedicated member of the Camping World family, witnessing firsthand its growth and transformation. When I started, property security was a minor concern. But as times changed, broken windows, vandalized property and stolen vehicles have become part of our reality.

The alarming increase in commercial property crime made protecting our business and employees a critical and urgent necessity. As a manager, the weight of checking the lot every day has intensified. There have been moments of fear when opening an RV, not knowing what awaited inside.

Crime is not going away because criminals are not going away. The annual Crime in California report, quietly released by California General Attorney Rob Bonta in June, revealed the harsh reality of increasing crime in the state. While the homicide rate declined, violent crime increased last year, as did robberies (by 10%) and property crimes (by 6%).

Yet, it seems that this issue is not receiving the attention it deserves from our policymakers.

We began to secure the property at Camping World over time, starting with a gate and then progressing to a full perimeter fence. We installed surveillance cameras, alarms, kept the property lit 24/7, and even hired roaming security guards. But with each measure we implemented, criminals were quick to find new ways to break in, causing devastating losses for the business and our loyal customers.

Dealing with break-ins and stolen property takes more than a financial toll; it takes an emotional toll. I’ve had to make too many phone calls informing a customer that their RV had been vandalized on our watch or – worse – stolen. Every call made was heart-wrenching and their pain became our burden.

The tipping point came when a 40-foot bus was hot-wired and stolen from our lot after thieves cut through the fence and gate with a torch. This resulted in thousands of dollars in damages, and we had to make yet another painful call to a customer, breaking the news of their stolen property.

The consequences of this incident extended beyond our business and customers, too. It posed a threat to the public since a stolen Class A vehicle driven by someone without the proper license puts innocent lives at risk.

I was willing to do whatever it took to prevent this from happening again, so I started taking an active role in city council meetings, pleading for permits that would allow us to take stronger security measures. By fortifying our business, we sought to create a safer environment for our employees and our customers.

Regrettably, our pleas often fell on deaf ears.

It felt like the process was broken somewhere, and despite expressing valid concerns, we were met with endless hurdles. Government became part of the problem. Our local elected officials were failing us by not listening to our needs, and the existing permitting process is burdensome, to say the least. Businesses should be allowed to implement security measures without jumping through complex webs of red tape.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting. Lengthy delays leave businesses and their customers vulnerable.

The state needs to step up and explore effective solutions that protect businesses and restore peace-of-mind to hardworking business owners, entrepreneurs and employees alike. What’s happened at Camping World is not unique.

There are countless others grappling with the surge in property crimes. We must take action to protect the businesses that form the backbone of our economy, providing jobs to millions and contributing significantly to California’s economic well-being. Protecting these enterprises is not only essential for their survival but also for fostering a vibrant and resilient economy.

The consequences of inaction are dire. The financial losses, emotional toll and threat to public safety can no longer be shrugged off. Swift legislative action is needed to ensure that businesses can flourish, employees and customers can feel secure, and communities can thrive.

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