SACRAMENTO – Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) today announced he is planning to stiffen the penalties for anyone caught looting in a disaster area during a state of emergency, such as the California wildfires.
“Unfortunately we’ve seen an increase over the past few years in the number of suspects arrested for looting evacuated homes during the California wildfires,” said Senator Gaines. “To steal precious belongings from fire victims during an already frightening and stressful time is absolutely reprehensible. We need to make sure anyone even thinking about looting knows that jail time will be their reward.”
Gaines’ proposed addition to the legislature’s wildfire Conference Committee legislation will make it a mandatory felony for committing burglary or grand theft during and within an affected county in a state of emergency, local emergency or evacuation order, resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot, or other disaster. Current law involving looting is a “wobbler,” meaning that either a misdemeanor or a felony can be charged depending on the circumstances. The bill will make looting during an emergency or disaster an automatic felony and also increases the required community service time.
Most recently, about a half-dozen looting cases have been reported in the wake of each of the Santa Rosa and Shasta County wildfires, with people entering evacuated neighborhoods and breaking through the doors of homes still standing, stealing personal property such as jewelry, electronics and credit cards.
“We want to make it crystal clear that robbery – especially during a time of crisis – will result in serious consequences. My hope is that by increasing the penalty, we will decrease the amount of cases and deter these criminals.”