Stores and malls in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and other metropolitan areas have been the targets of flash mob robberies, break-ins and vandalism.
Specialists who spoke with The Hill said that the uptick of online shopping during the pandemic has added to the increase in these kinds of wrongdoings.
Police recovered thousands of dollars worth of merchandise after retailers like Burberry, Bloomingdale’s and other high-end stories in San Francisco were robbed. Between 20 and 30 people stripped a Best Buy on Black Friday in Burnsville, Minn., located over 15 miles south of Minneapolis. In Chicago, four smash-and-grab incidents took place between Thanksgiving and Black Friday at a Canada Goose store, a Foot Locker location, a North Face retailer and a cell phone shop.
Michael Hanson, the senior executive vice president for public affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association and a spokesperson for the Buy Safe America Coalition, told The Hill that the recent surge in organized retail crime across the U.S. has been partially prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a notable portion of customers staying in their homes and changing to online shopping, Hanson said perpetrators of organized retail crime are seizing the chance to sell stolen goods to a larger audience — a pattern that contributes to an increase in crime.
“Criminals saw that [increase in online shopping] and said,‘Oh my gosh, more people are shopping online, let’s go get more and more products to sell on marketplaces because we can make a lot of money,’” Hanson said.
“And I think that’s why you’ve seen this increase in organized crime since the pandemic, just because there are more people shopping online and criminals are seeing an opening to sell both stolen and counterfeit goods because there’s a bigger market,” he added.
A report published in November by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Buy Safe America Coalition said that asset protection professionals and law enforcement officials believe that changes in how shoplifting and other non-violent crimes are prosecuted are factors in rising in-store theft in recent years.
According to the document, several states have increased the felony threshold for shoplifting due to overpopulation in prisons, which the report says is “effectively decriminalizing” robberies in some areas.
“The overcrowding of jails led many states to raise felony thresholds for shoplifting, or have eliminated cash bail for non-violent crimes, effectively decriminalizing theft in some jurisdictions, thus leading to fewer arrests and fewer prosecutions,” the report reads.
“This shift in prosecution has led existing organized criminal enterprises, gangs, mafias, and syndicates that traditionally monetized their efforts with violent and drug-related income to shift their criminal operations to attack retail,” it adds.