- The Washington Times
Thursday, September 22, 2022

A nationwide spike in organized retail thefts has prompted nearly half of U.S. small businesses to raise prices to offset losses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported Thursday.

The business lobbying group said 56% of 750 small retailers responding to a survey were hit by shoplifters in the past year and 50% believed the problem worsened. As a result, 46% of the retailers raised prices.

“Retail theft is not a victimless crime, and its increasing prevalence means greater danger for store employees and higher costs for law-abiding Americans,” said a statement by Neil Bradley, Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and chief policy officer.

Mr. Bradley said retail crime has gone beyond “traditional shoplifting” to include “highly organized criminal gangs who seek to profit by taking advantage of gaps in the law.”

Retail thefts cost businesses about $700,000 for every $1 billion in sales, a 50% increase over the past five years, Mr. Bradley said.

Officials have reported an increase in smash-and-grab robberies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An annual survey released last week by the National Retail Federation showed that organized retail crime helped drive $94.5 billion in “retail shrink” losses last year, up from $90.8 billion in 2020.

Among retailers responding to the NRF survey, 71.4% cited pandemic-related organized theft as a challenge. Also last year, 26.5% of retailers noticed an increase in theft and 81.2% said the violence and aggression associated with it also worsened.

“These highly sophisticated criminal rings jeopardize employee and customer safety and disrupt store operations,” said Mark Mathews, an NRF vice president. “Retailers are bolstering security efforts to counteract these increasingly dangerous and aggressive criminal activities.”  

Many small retailers have added security guards and window bars, and officials have ramped up efforts to catch and prosecute the gangs.

Organized gangs took advantage of a 2020 protest in Seattle to occupy and loot small businesses, resulting in lawsuits against the city.

On June 23, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson chose Seattle as the place to announce the creation of an organized retail crime theft task force.

“Organized retail crime can be dangerous to workers and damaging to small businesses,” Mr. Ferguson said in an email Thursday.

Nine other states have created retail crime task forces to coordinate police efforts to stop the gangs, which often elude capture by crossing jurisdictions.

Five Maryland residents were arrested in a Sept. 7 heist of large quantities of fragrances and other merchandise from an Ulta Beauty store in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania. WPMT Harrisburg reported that suspects in a black sedan with out-of-state plates led police on a high-speed chase on Interstate 83 before crashing the car into a guardrail.

In most smash-and-grab robberies, masked gangs walk into stores during business hours and take sacks of goods to resell online. Customers and employees can only watch.

On Thursday, the Beverly Hills Police Department announced the arrests of four people in a March 22 smash-and-grab robbery at a California jewelry shop.

In broad daylight, the thieves used axes, sledgehammers and crowbars to break display cases and steal $3 million to $5 million worth of jewelry and high-end watches.

On Monday in Orange, California, a pair of thieves were caught on video conducting a smash-and-grab robbery in front of customers at a T-Mobile store during business hours. They remain at large.

The Chamber of Commerce has called on lawmakers to crack down on the online sale of stolen goods, increase criminal penalties and prosecute shoplifters more vigorously.

Still, proposals to address retail theft face uphill battles against liberal lawmakers.

In May, a group of small-business owners formed Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft — CARRT for short. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 14 retail theft bills have died in the state Legislature this year.

“I don’t think they realize the magnitude of the problem,” CARTT spokesman Matt Ross said during a May 18 news conference. “That’s why we need to educate them. We need them to come back to their districts and meet with local business owners and find out what’s going on.”

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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