Donald Trump said that, if he is re-elected, shoplifters could “fully expect to be shot” and in some instances killed by police if they steal from stores.
The former president said that the extreme measure would put an end to such crimes “immediately” and hailed the police force as “amazing”.
It comes after US retailer Target announced it would be closing nine stores across the country, three of which are in San Francisco, California, citing thefts and organised retail crime – which it says threatens the safety of its employees.
Speaking at the fall convention of the California Republican Party in Anaheim, California, on Friday, Mr Trump said “When [the police] are there, they’ll knock the hell out of you and kill you in some cases.
“And we will immediately stop all of the pillaging and theft. Very simply: If you rob a store you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store. Shot!”
Mr Trump’s remarks drew cheers and shouts from those gathered to watch him speak.
He continued: “When the police are allowed to do their job – and that means, in some cases, shoot them this will stop immediately. Our police are amazing.”
Target said that prior to making its decision on the closures, which also affects stores in other West Coast locations including Portland and Seattle, it had invested heavily in strategies to prevent and stop theft – but that it continued to face “fundamental challenges”.
At his Anaheim speech, Mr Trump slammed the Democratic leaders and said that the state of California had become a “dumping ground”.
“Together we will reverse the decline of America and we will end the desecration of your once great state California,” he said. “This is not a great state anymore. This is a dumping ground. You’re a dumping ground.”
Mr Trump is highly unlikely to win California in a general election, but the state is also home to the largest group of Republican delegates in the fight for the GOP nomination.
The state will hold its primary on 5 March.