Retail crime is a 'spiraling problem' in Kansas, the state's AG says, as rising drug use leads to a surge in shoplifting in Wichita

Wichita, Kansas
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  • Organized retail crime is rising in Wichita, Kansas, according to a report by CNN.

  • Rising drug use in the area is leading to a surge in shoplifting, local crime officials say.

  • Items being targeted include Lego sets, jewelry, beauty products, and Tide detergent.

Wichita, Kansas, is becoming a hotbed for retail crime, according to a report by CNN.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach told CNN that it was a "spiraling problem" in the state that left both store employees and the general public "frustrated."

"To see this much retail crime, it's shocking," Captain Casey Slaughter, who leads Wichita Police Department's property crimes bureau, told CNN.

Retail crime is rising across the US. Organized retail crime at retailers was 26.5% higher in 2021 than in the previous year, according to a study by the National Retail Federation. Target said organized retail crime has led to more than $400 million in profit losses in 2022. Cities including San Francisco have seen a huge exodus of retailers, in part due to concerns about crime.

It's a problem in Wichita, too. Retail theft in the city in 2023 so far is up 35% over the five-year average, Slaughter told CNN.

Slaughter said that thieves were "basically taking anything that can be quickly carried out of the store," and would often sell them on online marketplaces or at small stores afterwards. He said that the most stolen items reported by retailers included expensive clothing and footwear, Lego sets, jewelry, beauty products, sporting goods, power tools, and Tide detergent.

"Property crime is an emerging problem in Wichita," Joe Sullivan, Wichita's police chief, said at a Sedgwick County board of commissioners meeting in April. "I'm very concerned about the sudden rise in burglary and retail theft."

One of the city's Victoria's Secret stores loses around $30,000 a month to theft, the fourth-highest of the retailer's stores in the US, Sullivan said. He added that outdoor leisure retailer Cabela's said that its Wichita store was its worst for loss nationwide.

"There's a small number of people committing the vast majority of this large number of crimes," Sullivan said.

In Derby, a smaller city to the south of Wichita, retail crime is primarily from big box stores, the city's police chief Robert Lee said during an April meeting.

"What we see now is much more organized rings of shoplifters," Lee said. "We see them where they can more easily dispose of the property that they steal quickly: They don't have to go to pawn shops anymore, they just take care of it on social media and sell it that way, but we see them now much more likely to confront store employees, confront the police, and use extraordinary means to facilitate their escape. We see a lot of high-speed pursuits as results of shoplifts."

Local crime officials say that drugs, and in particular fentanyl, a synthetic drug like heroin but 50 times more potent, appear to be driving a lot of the retail crime. Drug-associated deaths by Sedgwick County residents increased by 91% from 2015 to 2020, according to county data, largely due to a sharp rise in opioid-associated deaths.

Actions retailers across the US have taken to reduce theft include putting tags on high-value items or storing them in locked cabinets, hiring more security guards, and, in the case of Home Depot, introducing power tools that won't work if thieves steal them.

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