NYC Mayor Unveils Retail Theft Plan as Store Owners Abandon Big City Centers

New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to address retail theft, unveiled last week, will combine increased law enforcement efforts with expanded social service programming and resources.

Retail theft complaints in the nation’s most populous city rose 45 percent last year, according to data from New York City’s Retail Theft Report. Compared to five years ago, complaints are up 77 percent.

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“Last year alone, 327 repeat offenders were responsible for 30 percent of the more than 22,000 retail thefts across our city,” Adams said in a statement. “This hurt our businesses, our workers, our customers, and our city. This plan will help us invest in diversion programs and in underlying factors leading to retail theft, works upstream to stop some of the factors leading to a crime before one takes place, trains retail workers in de-escalation tactics and security best practices, and takes numerous actions to increase necessary enforcement against repeat shoplifters and deter organized crime rings perpetrating these thefts.

“Most importantly, this plan aims to reassure our store owners that we know they are essential to our city, and we have their backs.”

Cities across the United States have witnessed increased retail thefts since the pandemic. Last week, police in Franklin, Tenn., stopped two women who had walked out of a Kohl’s store with nearly $15,000 in makeup and other merchandise hidden under their skirts, a local Fox station reported. Officers found an additional $19,500 in merchandise from other Kohl’s locations in their cars.

In Blue Springs, Mo., local police conducted an operation with extra loss prevention officers last week that resulted in 24 shoplifting arrests and 12 warrant arrests, recovering nearly $4,000 in property and solving open cases with more than $10,000 in loss. Earlier this month, two assailants sent a Los Angeles clothing store owner to the hospital. The suspects only stole what was on the owner, an ABC affiliate reported. In Boise, Idaho, IdahoNews reported last week that retail thefts in the first quarter rose for the third year in a row, though they remain well below pre-pandemic 2019 and 2020 numbers.

Retailers are citing the increase in thefts as they announce store closures in city centers. Earlier this month, Nordstrom announced it would close its last two San Francisco stores considering the “dynamic of the downtown San Francisco market.” A joint statement released by the Westfield mall, the site of Nordstrom’s San Francisco anchor location, blamed shoplifting and deviant customer behavior specifically. In April REI Co-op said it would close its only Portland, Ore., store in February due to a wave of “break-ins and thefts.”

Last week, Target said it expected shrink to reduce this year’s profitability by more than $500 million compared to last year. “While there are many potential sources of inventory shrink, theft and organized retail crime are increasingly important drivers of the issue,” CEO and chair Brian Cornell said. This past weekend, a state trooper arrested a Delaware woman for attempting to steal—with the help of another woman who escaped—merchandise valued at more than $2,300. Across the country, in San Ramon, Calif., police arrested a man who they determined stole more than $3,000 in merchandise from a local Target, a CBS News affiliate reported last week.

In New York City, Adams’ plan will create a Precision Repeat Offender Program (PROP) in which retailers can submit security incident reports to the New York Police Department to identify and track repeat offenders and facilitate stronger prosecutions, the Mayor’s Office said. It will establish a neighborhood retail watch for businesses located near each other for sharing real-time intelligence with each other and law enforcement in the event of a theft.

The city will also advocate at the state and federal level for additional online authentication procedures to build upon the federal Integrity, Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces (INFORM) for Consumers Act, which goes into effect in June. Additionally, the plan will establish a New York City Organized Retail Theft Task Force comprised of retailers, law enforcement agencies and “other stakeholders” to respond to retail theft trends.

The plan includes several prevention and intervention strategies as well. It establishes two diversion programs—Second Chance, and Re-Engaging Store Theft Offenders and Retail Establishments (RESTORE)—that allow non-violent offenders to avoid prosecution or incarceration by engaging with services to help address underlying factors that lead to shoplifting. It also introduces an employee support program to train retail workers in de-escalation tactics, anti-theft tools and security best practices. The city intends to install resource kiosks in stores to connect individuals with government resources and social services, as well.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg noted that he has seen “encouraging news” this year with retail theft beginning to decline in Manhattan for the first time since the pandemic. Year to date, petit larcenies are down 8 percent and robberies down 5 percent. In the first quarter, retail theft complaints fell 11 percent year over year.

“While we have more work to do, we believe our partnership with the NYPD and mayor’s office, and 5-point plan developed with the Small Business Alliance, is beginning to turn the tide,” Bragg said in a statement.

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