Maricopa County attorney makes property rights a priority

This opinion column by Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Danny Seiden originally appeared in The Arizona Capitol Times. 

In their memoir Two Lucky People, Milton and Rose Friedman wrote that property rights “are the most basic of human rights and an essential foundation for other human rights.”

That’s a good framing to consider the state of property rights in Arizona and how leaders like Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell are doing in upholding this “essential foundation.”

Here are a few points on why I believe Mitchell deserves high marks on her private property scorecard:

Organized retail theft

Shoplifting, or shrinkage in retail industry parlance, has always been a source of worry for retailers.

But today’s thieves are cannier than ever, often part of sophisticated organized retail crime rings that steal merchandise to be resold.

Since early in her term as county attorney, Mitchell has made cracking down on organized retail crime a top priority. She has assembled a task force that includes private sector members, launched a safe shopping campaign during the holiday season, and hasn’t gone soft on pursuing tough sentences for convicted thieves.

Not everyone in her position has adopted a similar strategy.

After San Francisco Mayor London Breed sought help from her city’s board of supervisors in combating a soaring property crime rate, District Attorney Chesa Boudin downplayed the progressive policies that contributed to rising crime, saying casting blame toward the reforms he supported was “misguided” and that we instead should examine the “root causes of crime,” ticking off areas where the social safety net has too many holes.

Voters weren’t having it. They recalled him from office in June 2022.

Mitchell’s crackdown on organized retail crime rings sends a powerful message, and the right one – justice will be served, and criminals will be held accountable for their actions. You won’t find San Francisco-style criminal justice policies in Maricopa County.

The dinnertime burglars

In January, the Scottsdale Police Department announced that in a less-than-three-month span it had received more than 20 calls about burglaries that had occurred during the dinner hour, especially at homes that abut golf courses or greenbelts. Jewelry was often the target of break-ins.

Phoenix police in February arrested three suspects. The investigation has revealed that this was hardly a group of small time bandits. The thieves had ties to a South American crime ring, had been connected to more than 100 burglaries in the Valley, and had been responsible for the theft of more than $3 million in goods. They were all from Chile but were carrying fake Spanish IDs.

The bad guys weren’t just slipping in through an unlocked door. They had high-tech equipment to jam alarm systems, and tools to cleanly punch through windows and pick locks.

Mitchell gave the case the attention it deserved. Working with Scottsdale and Phoenix PDs, the investigation expanded to six suspects being charged, one of whom has been involved in similar burglaries in Nevada and California. They’ve all been charged with a series of felonies and are being held on cash-only bonds.

So, why does the business community care about how and whether the county attorney pursues prosecutions for property crimes?

Beyond retailers wanting to protect their inventories or businesses wanting to protect their premises, the ability to own, use, and dispose of property as one sees fit is essential for innovation, investment, and societal progress. Without strong protections for property owners, we risk stifling entrepreneurship and discouraging individuals from investing in their communities.

Don’t buy the argument from Mitchell’s critics that stringent property laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Strong property rights benefit everyone, regardless of socio-economic status. They provide individuals with a sense of security and empowerment, enabling them to build wealth and achieve upward mobility.

When prosecutors look the other way on property crime, it just encourages more crime and of increasing severity, including squatting, which is its own magnet for drug use and other illicit behavior.

Like we saw in San Francisco, policymakers will find out that a lackadaisical approach to protecting private property will have political consequences. Voters in Arizona will decide in November whether property owners should be able to recoup at least a portion of any expenses that result from a city’s failure to control a public nuisance that infringes on their property rights.

Ultimately, the strength of a society is measured by its respect for individual rights and the rule of law. By safeguarding private property rights and holding criminals accountable, Rachel Mitchell is not only protecting our homes and businesses but is also preserving the principles upon which our nation was founded.

Danny Seiden is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

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