A number of interest groups launched efforts on Wednesday to encourage a crackdown on organized retail crime at the federal level.
Thefts executed by packs of robbers have garnered public attention during the crime wave of the past two years, with some retailers and convenience chains spending millions on new security measures or closing locations in dangerous cities. In response, trade associations are activating grassroots activists to lobby for legislative reform.
“Unlike an individual stealing for themselves, these are sophisticated criminal enterprises which steal thousands, even millions in merchandise which they then resell online,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Tom Wickham told The Daily Wire. “These crime rings are highly organized, deliberately exploiting felony theft thresholds to operate with impunity. They are knowledgeable of the demand for the products they target and sometimes will use calculators in the stores to ensure they stay below the limits.”
Retailers reported a 26.5% increase in organized retail crime last year, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation, while nearly 90% of respondents said that the phenomena of the past two years increased risk for their businesses through higher levels of violence, shoplifting, employee theft, and organized theft. In an interview with The Daily Wire last week, National Retail Federation Vice President of Government Relations Jason Straczweski said that the introduction of face masks and accelerated growth of e-commerce since the spring of 2020 have enabled heightened degrees of retail crime.
In response, lawmakers are advancing the Combatting Organized Retail Crime Act and the INFORM Consumers Act.
While the Combatting Organized Retail Crime Act would establish the Organized Retail Crime Coordination Center at Homeland Security Investigations, thereby launching a joint effort among law enforcement agencies and retail industry leaders, the INFORM Consumers Act would prevent the resale of stolen goods by requiring verification for high-volume third-party sellers on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
“In the past, criminals fenced stolen goods at pawn shops until laws were passed to crack down on this. Today, these enterprises sell truly massive quantities of stolen goods on online marketplaces, passing off these stolen goods as legitimate merchandise to unsuspecting buyers,” Wickham said, calling the INFORM Consumers Act “a common-sense proposal which would implement know-your-seller laws much like was done for pawn shops decades ago.”
Although proponents of the legislation have argued that federal action is necessary to coordinate efforts across interstate borders, the increased thefts correspond with moves from progressive local officials to deemphasize the prosecution of minor offenses. California is among several states that have opted to loosen consequences for small-scale shoplifting, with residents approving a ballot measure in 2014 that prescribed misdemeanor penalties to nonviolent property crimes where the value of stolen goods does not exceed $950.
“Law enforcement agencies have been going after these groups, but all stakeholders need better tools and increased communication to do so more effectively,” Wickham added. “These groups operate across local jurisdictions and even state lines; so, coordination is key and bills in Congress are starting to reflect that.”
Crime ranks among the most pressing issues driving voters to the polls in the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans, who boast a 14% lead over Democrats on public safety, which includes a 34% lead among independents, have asserted that their rivals’ policies encourage lawlessness. Twelve of the major American cities which set new homicide records last year were run by Democratic officials.