California bill does not make it illegal for employees to confront shoplifters

Customers check out at a Grocery Outlet store in Pleasanton, Calif. on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.  (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

Customers check out at a Grocery Outlet store in Pleasanton, Calif. on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. In September 2023, social media users falsely claimed a recently-passed California bill will make it illegal for stores to confront or fight back against looters, burglars and shoplifters. The bill requires businesses to have a workplace violence prevention plan. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

CLAIM: Democrats have proposed a bill that makes it illegal to confront or fight back against looters, burglars and shoplifters, a move that basically legalizes crime.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. California bill SB 553, which awaits the governor’s signature after passing on Tuesday, doesn’t legalize crime or prohibit employees from confronting shoplifters. The bill would require businesses to have a workplace violence prevention plan that includes several provisions. Previous versions of the bill had a provision that prohibited businesses from requiring non-security employees to confront shoplifters and active shooters, but that language has been removed.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing posts falsely claiming a California bill requiring a workplace violence prevention plan would make it illegal for non-security personnel to address crime at their place of business.

“California Democrats have proposed Bill 553, which makes it ILLEGAL to confront or fight back against looters, burglars and shoplifters,” claimed an Instagram post with thousands of likes as of Friday.

The false claim was also shared in Spanish, saying, “Democrats are literally legalizing crime.”

However, SB 553 aims to protect employees against violence at their place of work and would require employers to develop a workplace violence prevention plan. The plan would include several provisions such as requiring employers to maintain a log of violent incidents.

The posts targeted an earlier version of the bill, which was amended to remove the section being criticized. That section prohibited employers and businesses “from maintaining policies that require employees who are not dedicated safety personnel to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.”

The California Chamber of Commerce, which represented multiple business groups concerned about the legislation, opposed the bill for multiple reasons, Denise Davis, a spokesperson for the chamber, said in an email.

CalChamber, as the group is also known, initially argued that the bill would increase costs for businesses and would be infeasible for some small businesses. “SB 553 specifically prohibits retailers from ‘confronting’ any suspected shoplifter. Though recent amendments added an exception for ‘dedicated safety personnel,’ most retailers cannot afford to have such personnel—making the amendment not helpful,” the organization wrote in August.

However, the bill was amended in late August. Democratic state Sen. Dave Cortese, the bill’s lead author, told the Associated Press that language was amended after “working with” Cal/OSHA, or the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Davis confirmed that with the last amendments on the bill, the chamber is now neutral and withdrew their opposition.

Cortese said that there was never language in the current and previous version of the bill that would be “legalizing crime” or prohibit good samaritan activities from an employee, as some social media users falsely claimed. He added that he understands the frustrations around shoplifting and law enforcement response, but emphasized that the bill is ultimately about requiring employers to have a workplace violence prevention plan and is “an administrative compliance bill.”

Regardless, the bill does not change that theft is still illegal, said Michael S. Romano, director and founder of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School.

“If a shoplifter confronts, threatens, or touches a store employee, regardless of the value of the merchandise involved, that crime is elevated to a mandatory violent felony with punishment up to 5 years in prison,” Romano wrote in an email to the AP.

This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.