The Battle Against Retail Theft: How Store Owners Are Fighting Back in NY

Direct WhatsApp communication with police officers in the Bronx, New York, has become the latest resource that store owners are using to fight back against shoplifters targeting their businesses. Retail theft has increased overwhelmingly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 1,000 New York retailers joined forces in response to the crime wave. In 2023, the organization Collective Action to Protect Our Stores (CAPS) was created to pressure local and state authorities to toughen their stance against retail theft.

Nelson Eusebio, founder and director of CAPS.

The National Supermarket Association (NSA), Bodega and Small Business Group, and Metro Supermarket Association are the three major associations represented in CAPS. Nelson Eusebio, a former NSA president and emeritus member of its board of directors, serves as its director.

“Crime is out of control. Retail crime, including vandalism and attacks on our employees, is worse than ever. We understand that it’s due to the laws that have been passed which prevent a judge from knowing the criminal record of a person who has committed multiple crimes. Additionally, the police and prosecutors are not arresting shoplifters. They just let them go,” Eusebio told Abasto Media.

Eusebio mentioned that CAPS has been actively involved in intensive lobbying efforts at the local and state levels. Additionally, they have sent an open letter to New York’s mayor, legislators, and the state governor outlining steps that authorities should take to combat retail theft.

“These criminals feel emboldened by laws that protect them and are cunning and aware of it. They are not individuals who steal out of necessity. These are organized individuals who steal to resell merchandise and profit from it. They are people with drug addictions who steal to fund their vice,” denounced Eusebio.

CAPS Proposes the Following Actions to Stop Retail Theft

  • Establish dedicated units and allocate resources to enhance response times and improve communication and collaboration between law enforcement and prosecutors to deter repeat offenders.
  • Require prosecutors to apply the “harm on harm” principle when requesting bail. This will enable prosecutors and judges to set bail for repeat offenders with pending charges and get rearrested for causing additional harm.
  • Initiate a public service announcement campaign against shoplifting and hold all participants in the criminal justice system accountable for contributing to resolving this issue.

The Adoption of the Following Bills

  • S1644 / A1504 makes it a crime to encourage the sale of stolen goods.
  • S4448 / A4121 elevates a consecutive offense to grand larceny in the fourth degree.
  • S5479 / A5260-A elevates assault on a retail worker to Class D felony assault in the second degree.

The Governor of New York Reacts Against Retail Theft

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul.

In response to the lobbying and proposals by CAPS, the state government has finally taken action. During her annual New York State of the State address last January, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a series of measures to combat retail crime.

“Retail theft has been increasing across our nation and our state, causing fear among customers and workers. Thieves boldly snatch items off shelves and intimidate employees. Business owners struggle financially due to broken storefronts and stolen goods, leading to the closure of many shops,” Hochul stated in her speech.

“These acts are a clear breakdown of social order. I declare enough is enough. The disorder must cease,” Hochul emphasized.

From January to June 2023, robbery in New York City increased by 12 percent compared to the same period in 2022 and by 58 percent compared to the first six months of 2017, according to state government statistics.

To address this issue, Governor Hochul announced the launch of a joint operation involving law enforcement agencies to combat retail theft, support small businesses, and provide peace of mind to customers.

Governor’s Plan to Combat Retail Theft

The governor of New York has devised a comprehensive plan to address the rising crime rates against grocery stores in the state.

  • The plan includes a series of measures to deter retail theft and protect workers.
  • One key component of the plan is the introduction of legislation to establish criminal penalties for online marketplaces and outside vendors that promote the sale of stolen goods. Additionally, there is a proposal to increase criminal penalties for assaulting retail workers.
  • Another important aspect of the plan is the launch of the Joint Operation Retail Theft. This initiative will coordinate the response of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors through the state’s network of Crime Analysis Centers. Modeled after successful intrastate gun trafficking task forces, this operation will focus on combating organized retail theft crime.
  • In addition, the governor plans to deploy a dedicated team from the New York State Police to build cases against organized retail theft rings. Creating a New York State Police Robbery and Theft Suppression Unit will enhance efforts to combat theft and protect businesses.

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  • The plan includes expanding the 11 Crime Analysis Centers (CACs) work to support these efforts by establishing a centralized statewide intelligence and evidence collection strategy. These CACs would serve as hubs for receiving intelligence from retailers affected by organized crime theft, collecting data, information, and evidence, and sharing it with local law enforcement agencies. This collaborative approach aims to enhance the investigation and prosecution of such crimes across state jurisdictions.
  • The governor also plans to introduce a Business Security Tax Credit to assist business owners in covering the costs of implementing specific security measures for their storefronts. This tax credit initiative is designed to encourage businesses to invest in security enhancements that can help deter criminal activities and protect their assets.
  • Provide funding for dedicated teams in district attorneys’ offices across the state focused on property crimes, primarily organized retail theft.
  • Funding for district attorneys and new commercial security units to enable greater use, enforcement, and prosecution of search affidavits and other legal strategies to assist small businesses in combating this retail theft.

Eusebio showed a cautious reaction regarding the governor’s proposed measures.

“We are somewhat pleased but not entirely relieved since she allocated over $40 million in her budget to fight crime. We believe that the funds were misallocated, as $20 million was given to the State Police, whose primary responsibility is controlling traffic on highways. They are not local police and do not patrol our neighborhoods on foot; they are agents in cars. Therefore, we question how they will assist us, and we are not satisfied.”

Nevertheless, Eusebio expressed satisfaction with the financial support provided to the district attorneys. “We hope they are able to utilize these funds effectively and use them to obtain more resources to prosecute cases.”

When Collaboration Works

Store owners meeting with police officers from the 46th Precinct in the Bronx.

Store owners prefer directing funds to local police because of the close relationship that exists between them. By knowing the community, the cops who patrol the neighborhoods can establish better communication and collaboration with the businesses.

One notable instance of this collaboration can be seen in the Bronx, specifically in the 46th Precinct of the Bronx Police Department.

In this precinct, four officers are specifically assigned to respond to calls from store owners when a robbery occurs. To enhance communication efficiency, they bypass the conventional 911 system and directly contact the officers via WhatsApp, ensuring immediate response.

For grocery store operators in areas known for high crime rates, fostering a strong partnership with law enforcement agencies is key to survival. Without this collaborative effort, there is a high probability that these essential businesses will be forced to cease operations, ultimately depriving neighborhoods of vital resources and turning them into food deserts.