An Arc’teryx store in downtown Washington D.C. was burglarized by a flash mob on Wednesday for the second time in three weeks, with city police arresting one 17-year-old in connection with the “smash-and-grab” robbery.
The latest robbery comes as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is urging Congress and other policymakers to be more proactive in fighting organized retail crime by increasing penalties and cracking down on these criminals.
On March 8, four people stole an estimated $10,000 in merchandise from the Arc’teryx store at 1099 H St. NW, just blocks from the White House, according to D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.
D.C. stores in particular have recently struggled with combating this rise in retail crime, with an Atmos location and a local smoke shop in Georgetown’s business district also targeted Monday. Suspects stole mostly jackets and jeans in their $19,500 robbery of the streetwear retailer.
The MPD is currently looking for others in the robberies and are trying to determine whether there are links to similar incidents at six eyewear stores across Maryland and Virginia in addition to D.C.
The “smash-and-grab” robberies involve coordinated groups quickly running in and swarming an open store. In some cases, thieves take clothing off the racks or items off shelves; other times they smash display cases to steal merchandise.
MPD second district commander Duncan Bedlion said four suspects, believed to be between the ages of 17 and 25, showed up at the corner 11th and H Streets Northwest in a stolen car Wednesday. Bedlion said they then entered the Arc’teryx store and stole $8,000 worth of clothes.
“The common denominator is that there’s intimidation involved,” Bedlion said in press conference Wednesday. “In this particular scenario, all four suspects came in very abruptly. One of them was holding their waistband, as if they had a weapon, no weapon was observed. Let me emphasize, that no weapon was found.”
Bedlion said the suspects then fled the area in the vehicle.
Police tried to stop the thieves during a traffic stop, but the group ultimately continued past their cruisers. Bedlion said the group later crashed the car on the 700 block of K St. NW. Three of the suspects escaped. Upon making the arrest, police were able to recover most of the stolen clothes.
Law enforcement did not identify the juvenile who was arrested.
Alongside the recent robberies, the investigation of the six eyewear store burglaries remains ongoing. On March 7, police said two people stole $102,000 worth of sunglasses from an optical store in Georgetown. Police said one person “motioned he had a weapon” but did not display it.
In another incident at an eyeglass store in Alexandria, Va. a man used a hammer to smash glass display cases and a group escaped with Gucci products and a tray of sunglasses worth more than $17,000.
Smash-and-grab robberies have increasingly affected big cities since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with several stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York affected by break-ins.
And these instances don’t come cheap for some retailers—on March 23, one luxury jewelry store in Beverly Hills, Calif. had an estimated $3 million to $5 million in merchandise stolen after a break-in, according to the retailer’s owner. The high-end goods stolen included diamond-studded jewelry and necklaces as well as luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe.
The RealReal’s Madison Avenue location in Manhattan suffered a $500,000 heist that saw the theft of various high-priced goods including jewelry, watches and handbags.
In San Francisco, the repeated theft became such a problem for Walgreens even before the pandemic that the pharmacy giant opted to close 17 stores in the market over a five-year span. Regional vice president Jason Cunningham said the stores in the area saw four times the theft experienced across all markets.
These kind of “smash-and-grab” robberies can have devastating consequences for smaller businesses. One Minneapolis boutique sneaker store, KKG Kickz, was forced to close earlier this month after experiencing five burglaries in six months. Across those robberies, the store’s owner, Walter Dillon, said the retailer lost a total of $30,000 worth of merchandise.
Chamber of Commerce to government leaders: take action
The robberies have had business owners and local governments alike scrambling to find a solution to curb the growing problem. On Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Congress, the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National District Attorneys Association outlining ways to tackle the issue.
In the letter, the Chamber called on policymakers to take three steps to address retail crime: pass legislation to stop the sale of stolen goods on online marketplaces; update the definition of organized retail crime and increase criminal penalties; and reconsider thresholds that individual states have implemented to trigger a felony charge for burglary.
“The retail industry—already struggling from the impacts of the pandemic, labor shortages and supply chain problems—is now faced with large-scale theft and looting, much of it stemming from organized crime,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Retail theft is becoming a national crisis, hurting businesses in every state and the communities they serve. We call on policymakers to tackle this problem head-on before it gets further out of control. No store should have to close because of theft.”
The Chamber of Commerce cited a November 2021 Business.org survey that found that 54 percent of 700 small business owners experienced an increase in shoplifting last year. Additionally, the organization pointed to the National Retail Federation’s data from last year estimating that organized retail crime cost stores an average of over $700,000 per $1 billion in sales in 2020, up more than 50 percent in the last five years.
“These crimes are not victimless,” the Chamber letter reads. “In addition to the growing number of thefts that turn violent, innocent consumers, employees, local communities, and business owners and shareholders bear the costs of rising retail theft. Twenty-five percent of small businesses report raising prices as a result of shoplifting. Some retailers have been forced to shutter locations in response to rampant theft.”
The letter referred to the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for (INFORM) Consumers Act, which was designed to increase transparency and identity verification of high-volume third-party sellers in online retail marketplaces while protecting the privacy of small sellers and establishing a consistent federal standard for businesses. The act, introduced in the Senate in March 2021, has not yet been put to a vote.
The Chamber of Commerce recommended that states should define the crime of “organized retail theft” in criminal law to specify those thefts involving two or more participants and an intention of resale and include increased penalties for those specific violations.
And the third callout in the letter was designed to hold those committing organized retail theft more accountable. Since 2000, at least 40 states have raised the thresholds for the value of stolen goods to trigger a felony charge, the letter noted. The Chamber argued that in some instances, criminals are taking advantage of these increased higher thresholds to engage in repeated thefts and avoid prosecution.