Last year there was a proposal circulating in the Seattle City Council to consider making drug abuse and mental disorders a defense against most misdemeanor crimes. In essence, that would have been a green light for an army of homeless shoplifters to steal at will knowing they’d face no chance of being punished. But it appears Seattle police have decided to do something about aggressive shoplifters. This Wednesday they arrested 53 shoplifters in 9 separate stores:
“These are organized groups that hit retailers with the sole purpose of stealing to either resell them or use them as currency for other things,” said Sgt. Randy Huserik, public information officer for the Seattle Police Department…
Huserik said large retailers and grocery stores have been losing thousands of dollars in merchandise due to ongoing problems with organized theft groups. He said some places are still struggling to recover from the pandemic.
“Not only does that impact the store itself with their losses and their bottom line, but the every-day people who walk into those stores that are buying things from those stores because of the losses those stores are sustaining, they have to raise their prices and then that impacts everybody,” said Huserik.
These cases will now be passed of to King County Prosecutor. Hopefully their office will follow through and put some of these people in prison.
Most big retailers have a policy of not chasing shoplifters through the store. This case from a Staples store in Seattle shows what can go wrong if workers get too aggressive pursuing thieves:
[Elizabeth] Pratt was shopping at the Staples in Burien in August 2018 when a teenager suddenly rushed past her, knocking the then 85-year-old to the ground.
According to reports filed by King County Sheriff’s Deputies, the collision happened as the juvenile suspect was “running from employees.” Pratt and her attorneys believe Staples workers should have let the suspected shoplifter go.
Mike Kelly, of Gehrke Baker Doull Kelly Attorneys at Law in Des Moines, said “over-pursuing, or overly aggressively pursuing shoplifters” to the point where “non-involved, innocent business invitees or shoppers” can be injured fails to protect the public. Kelly believes Staples employees failed in their duty to protect Pratt the day she broke her hip.
There’s video of this incident and it was clearly the shoplifter who knocked over Mrs. Pratt. But because a store employee was trying to get to him before he could leave the store is being sued. To ensure employees don’t get aggressive, many stores let them know they can be fired for even trying to stop a shoplifter.
But those policies designed to avoid lawsuits mean retailers are often at the mercy of local police to try to discourage this behavior. And in some locations, that just doesn’t happen. Last tear I wrote about the absolute looting of drug stores in San Francisco. All workers could do as people walked out with armloads of merchandise was make sarcastic comments. A number of Walgreens locations were shut down in San Francisco because they had been stripped bare.
In Seattle, retailers have complained for years about the lack of attention to this problem. Last February KOMO News did a story about it:
One complaint is that shoplifters are sometimes set free hours after being arrested. Mindy Longanecker with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office said the laws around holding people in custody prior to a trial are set by the state, not local prosecutors.
“If you are upset with those laws, that is out of our hands,” Longanecker said. “That is in the hands of the Legislature.”
Another perception is that shoplifting simply doesn’t get prosecuted. Officials said it depends on the facts of the case, but the reality is that trials are expensive.
“There is something of a cost-benefit analysis, particularly if this person is not a prolific offender, whether or not we prosecute,” Longanecker said.
In short, prosecuting someone over $100 theft doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what if that person is actually stealing that much day after day from a number retailers? At some point the legal system has to put a stop to it if for no other reason than to send a message.
So it’s good to see Seattle PD making an effort to do something about this, but given the other problems Seattle has dealing with homeless people and repeat offenders it’s going to take a lot more than a one day effort to really see any change.