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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Other Papers Say: How big of a problem is retail theft?


When it comes to shoplifting and retail theft, the public has every right to be confused.

Is it going up or down? Is it a crime wave or an urban myth made up by struggling retailers to justify poor sales or shoddy management practices? Are more police needed or fewer?

Like everything else, shoplifting statistics have been politicized to prove one point or another. Locally, activists who want to defund the police say retail crime concerns are overblown.

The truth is, retail theft is clearly a problem, and coordinated efforts by businesses, police and prosecutors are paying off.

It’s unclear how much money retailers are losing due to organized retail crime. The Council on Criminal Justice, a policy think tank, released a report last month on shoplifting data in cities across the nation. It showed shoplifting in Seattle dropped by 31 percent in the first half of 2023 compared with the same period last year.

According to researchers, after a big spike in Seattle shoplifting in 2022, the numbers settled back slightly lower than the years 2018-2020.

The council notes that its data has limitations. Specifically, efforts made to thwart thieves, such as removing goods from the floor or installing locked cabinets, have cut down on theft. And law enforcement has ramped up on the state, county and municipal level.

Last month, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the first criminal prosecution by his new Organized Retail Crime Unit.

The Attorney General’s Office charged Shawn Nanez, a 33-year-old from Bremerton, in King County Superior Court with felony first-degree organized retail theft. The criminal charges stem from 11 thefts totaling over $50,000 in merchandise from Target stores in King and Kitsap counties.

When Target announced the closing of two Seattle stores in September out of security concerns, some advocates and others alleged that shoplifting was a smoke screen to hide other motives.

Mark Johnson, senior vice president of policy and government affairs at the Washington Retail Association, said that just doesn’t make sense. For one, there is no need to make up concerns about theft. Retailers shutter underperforming stores all the time.

“Millions and millions of dollars in Washington are spent on hiring security, putting in bollards to protect people from driving through the front of their store with a stolen car,” Johnson said. “This wasn’t the case five years ago. But these retailers are taking drastic measures, locking up their products, hiring off-duty police and security personnel, armed and unarmed, to protect their customers, to protect their workers and to protect their product.”

Is shoplifting and retail theft a legitimate problem? If we leave out the politics, the answer is obvious.