Shopping wave forces US retailers to beef up security – or just close stores

Snow fell like clockwork every evening during your stay at The Grove, a luxury outdoor shopping mall in the Fairfax section of Los Angeles. Hundreds of people come to see the nightly performances for what is probably the closest downtown LA for a white Christmas.

This year holiday cheerleaders will have more company than usual after the property owner, Caruso, increased its security presence at The Grove with police on duty and even Special weapons and tactics team members.

The construction comes after a wave of thefts in LA and across the US – including an attempted break-in at a Nordstrom store in The Grove in late November. About 20 suspects used hammers to attempt the attempt. smashed through the retailer’s store front window, but was slowed down by the ballistic film Caruso had installed to reinforce the glass. Three people were arrested.

“It’s a very healthy show of force,” said Rick Caruso, the property developer who owns The Grove. He said he trained officers to be friendly so as not to break the holiday spirit.

Other retailers have not been so lucky in repelling groups of organized thieves. At a Louis Vuitton store in Oak Brook, Illinois, 14 people stuffed large plastic bags with clothes and other goods worth more than $120,000 in November. In California, authorities recently recalled $8 million in merchandise was stolen from retailers CVS, Target and Walgreens, along with $85,000 in cash and about $2 million from bank accounts. Walgreens is closing five pharmacies in San Francisco because thefts there are operating at five times the average rate in the rest of the country.

This wave of flash mob-style shoplifting has increased the pressure on retailers already feeling stressed about supply chain problems and outbreaks caused by the pandemic in online shopping. It has intensified a heated national conversation about policing and sentencing laws in the United States. And, company executives say, it terrifies their employees.

Joined by business owners and community leaders, Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, speaks during a news conference on retail thefts

Joined by business owners and community leaders, Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, speaks during a news conference on retail thefts © AP

“You can see that pressure in our finances,” Corie Barry, chief executive officer of Best Buy, told analysts last month: “More importantly, frankly, you can. see that pressure with our associates. This hurts our associates and is unacceptable.”

A National Retail Federation survey conducted in August found that 57% of its members have seen an increase in organized retail crime during the pandemic, and nearly two-thirds witnessed gangs of thieves become more violent than in previous years.

The list of reasons for their rise is varied, including policy, changes to sentencing guidelines and the growth of the online marketplace. So does the list of the most stolen items, topped by designer clothes, laundry detergent, bags and allergy medicine.

On Thursday, the heads of 20 retailers, including CVS, Home Depot and Target, wrote to congressional leaders urging them to act. They warn: “Criminal networks and unscrupulous businesses have exploited a system that protects their anonymity to sell unsafe, stolen or counterfeit products without ever having to be traced. legal claim.

Specifically, retailers want Congress to clamp down on online marketplaces – including those run by Amazon and eBay – where thieves can barricade stolen goods, calling on the House and Senate. The Institute passed the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness Act in the Consumer Online Retail Market.

The bipartisan bill, known as the Consumer Information Act, would force third-party resale sites to verify the identity, banking details and contact information of any seller of “quantity”. large” that trades more than 200 products or goods worth more than $5,000 in a year.

However, retail executives admit that there is “no simple answer” to the wave of retail crime, which industry experts also attribute to police officers, social unrest. such as opioid epidemic and changes in the times of the pandemic have seen petty criminals released, who were previously held pending bail.

Tony Sheppard, director of loss prevention solutions at ThinkLP, which sells software to retailers, says most district attorneys are still dealing with organized retail crime like petty theft. , providing little deterrent to those who would commit a crime. “The challenge is to educate people, enforce the law [agencies] and prosecutors about the difference between the two and making sure that someone who is committing an organized retail crime gets prosecuted is very different from someone who is just shoplifting. “

Local officials are divided on how to best respond to the problem. Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, said this week she was “disappointed” that some stores on Michigan Avenue weren’t hiring security guards, locking merchandise at night and chaining high-end handbags.

But Caruso, the property developer, said hiring more security guards puts even more pressure on small retailers that are already grappling with higher labor costs and housing problems. supply.

He blames sentence reductions on nonviolent crime — specifically California’s groundbreaking Proposition 47. The 2014 act reclassified some theft and drug possession offenses from felony to felony. misdemeanor, which means that a more serious crime only applies to theft of goods with a value higher than $950.

Caruso, who served as chair of the Los Angeles Police Commission and has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in next year’s election, said Proposition 47 was “well-intentioned” but has failure. “The [retail] Industry needs to band together and lobby for action to force government to act. When you spend a lot of time talking about safety, the government has let you down. ”

Gavin Newsom, governor of California, said large-scale thefts were “unacceptable,” but defended Proposition 47, saying law enforcement has the tools needed to scour the streets. organized crime. He ordered the California Highway Patrol to increase patrols near major retailers and proposed more money in next year’s state budget to combat retail theft.

Asked about the issue this week, Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman, said the Biden administration is working with the justice department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal law enforcement to prevent it. organized retail crime and indicated a proposal to increase funding for the Community Oriented Policymaking Services program.

Retailers have supported calls for new federal laws to crack down on multi-regional, multi-state organized crime networks that are often multi-jurisdictional organized crime networks. Following a meeting at the White House last week, the NRF reiterated its call for an interagency coordination center so retailers can report organized criminal activity, similar to how corporations The company reported cyber attacks.

Until more coordination is available, Caruso fears that smaller retailers will continue to struggle. “For people like me with resources for security, that’s one thing. But the majority of businesses are small businesses and depend on law enforcement for their security,” he said. “That’s the shame of it.”

Additional reporting by Obey Manayiti in New York

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