Is California-Style Shoplifting Coming to Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

California has become notorious as a shoplifter’s paradise where prosecutors downplay “minor” crimes and the criminal element has responded, quite rationally, by increasing the brazen looting of retail outlets. The theft is so rampant in San Francisco and Los Angeles that dozens of drugstores and other retailers have closed shop. I’ve long wondered if such phenomena would reach Virginia, which has elected a good number of prosecutors who, in the California mold, have professed an intention to ameliorate the impact of a supposedly racist criminal justice system upon racial minorities.

I had seen no sign of such social disorder in Virginia… until today. I happened to be perusing the Fredericksburg Police Department crime report of March 28th, when I came across this notice, along with the photograph posted below:

Ulta, 1696 Carl D. Silver Parkway, 3/21, The store manager reported two males and a female entered the store and stole approximately $15,000 worth of merchandise before exiting. While leaving, one of the males knocked a customer to the ground. Photos of the suspects are below.

This is not your ordinary shoplifting. It’s not your standard stick-up. The operation was premeditated and blatant– and it is plausible to suggest that it was modeled on similar heists in California, where shoplifting has morphed into large-scale, organized crime.

Unlike in California, where SF and LA police departments barely bother to arrest anyone for shoplifting anymore, police in Fredericksburg still do nab people for so-called “minor” crimes — including an incident of petit larceny and shoplifting that occurred the same day. But one might reasonably inquire how such cases are treated. Are they prosecuted? If not, has the criminal element concluded that it can get away with things that would not have been tolerated previously?


Fredericksburg’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, Libby Humphries, has served since August 1, 2021.  She had assumed office on an interim basis when her predecessor retired, and then won an uncontested election in November. Her bio in the Progressive Voters Guide notes that she had previously worked as a prosecutor in Charlottesville, and had received her law degree from the University of Virginia.

The bio says she supports “community-facing” prosecution, which seeks to reduce incarceration, detention, fines, and fees. “The approach prioritizes community safety and health over punishment and aims to reduce “disproportionate harm caused to Black and brown people by the criminal justice system.” Humphries opposes cash bail, and she supports drug policy reform, alternatives to incarceration, and the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative aimed at reducing the police use of force.

Humphries attended Black Lives Matter protests in response to the police murder of George Floyd and believes law enforcement and the court system must be reformed to prevent the killing of more Black people. Humphries also advocated for changing the name of Jefferson Davis highway, the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces, and the removal of a slave auction block from downtown Fredericksburg.

It might be a stretch to suggest that the audacious, California-style theft of $15,000 from the Ulta beauty store was a downstream consequence of Humphries’ progressive policies — it’s just one incident, after all. But it is certainly worth exploring the possibility that her social-justice approach to criminality has emboldened Fredericksburg’s criminal element. I’ll be watching for more of this kind of behavior, and I would be grateful if readers would alert me to examples taking place elsewhere in Virginia.