One of the uglier recent developments in America is the rise in shoplifting. Many of us have seen videos of incredibly brazen shoplifting and incidents where gangs have smashed into retail establishments and looted their stores. Those videos are symptomatic of a much broader rise in shoplifting that a spokesperson for a retail trade association called “out of control.”
The statistics are shocking. A CVS spokesperson says that the drugstore chain has experienced a 300 percent increase in theft since the COVID pandemic began. A Rite Aid store in Manhattan closed its doors after experiencing $200,000 in shoplifting losses in December and January alone, and New York City grocers are hiring increased security to prevent thefts of steaks and other costly items. And 69 percent of retailers report a significant increase in “organized retail crime.”
Why are we seeing a spike in shoplifting? Retailers think that the lack of a police presence and the failure to seriously prosecute shoplifting are contributing factors and are advocating for a greater police presence and sterner prosecution efforts, but they also contend that the ability to easily sell goods online is helping to spur the surge. Organized shoplifting gangs who want to sell stolen goods don’t need to find a “fence” anymore–they can use on-line marketplaces to sell the boosted items. That’s why some retail groups are pushing for enhanced federal regulation of on-line sellers.
The surge in shoplifting should be of concern to all of us. Brick-and-mortar stores have historically been important parts of their communities and the sources of many jobs–especially starter jobs. Every retail store that is forced to close due to shoplifting reduces employment opportunities. And I don’t want to see an America where the only shopping is on-line shopping, or retail stores become prison-like settings with armed guards and all products kept behind lock and key. Unfortunately, if we don’t do something to stop the spike in theft, that may be where we’re heading.
I doubt many people stealing sundries from CVS are hawking toothpaste and condoms on eBay. Thus, the stated hypotheses – lack of police presence or online sales of stolen items – miss at least one important element. Our city, like many, will not strongly prosecute shoplifters. One only need look to the west coast, Chicago, New York and many other large cities who take a loose prosecutorial view to see the result. No consequences result in high crime, especially grab crime. Until the prosecutors and local government do something (i.e. prosecute with real consequences), this is what we likely get.
From what I’ve heard, retailers instruct employees not to confront thieves. They would rather lose the merchandise than the employee.