Retail theft is not a victimless crime, and it’s not a simple crime of poverty. It hammers the bottom line of businesses — thieves don’t discriminate between mom-and-pop bodegas and more deep-pocketed chains — and carries with it the ever-present possibility of serious violence. As if New Yorkers needed the umpteenth reminder of that obvious fact, Thursday came the stabbing of a thief by a CVS worker in Midtown.
Therefore, it ought to trouble all New Yorkers that grand larceny and petty larceny remain stubbornly high, essentially flat as compared to this point in 2022 and up 48% and 40% respectively over year-to-date 2021. Nor can one lean on the tired old refrain that it’s all so much better than it used to be. Today’s grand larceny and petty larceny totals are 37% and 40% higher than they were 13 years ago.
Hearing the complaints of ordinary New Yorkers — who don’t want to have to ask a clerk for help getting their ice cream and toothpaste and other items from a locked case — and of retailers exhausted by seeming to have their revolving doors open to shoplifters, Mayor Adams back in May laid out plans to beat back the rise in theft. It’s informed by the unsurprising but still stunning fact that just 327 repeat offenders were responsible for 30% of the more than 22,000 retail thefts across the five boroughs.
Adams seems to understand the essential truth that while there’s nothing wrong with trying to address root causes to stop people from becoming shoplifters in the first place, in the here and now, there must be swift, sure consequences for chronic law-breakers, whether they’re individuals or functionaries of organized crime syndicates. Get them out of circulation so they can stop victimizing others.
Is the Adams plan working? The proof will be in the stealing of the pudding, as we see whether theft numbers that are now essentially flat start bending in the right direction as the year progresses. After a year of concerted, intelligent enforcement, shootings are decisively trending down. Now do the same for theft.