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Thieves Keeping Hitting. Is Retail Hitting Back?

As “smash-and-grabs” and inside jobs continue to be a thorn in the side of retailers and their supply chain networks, merchants nationwide are looking for answers to solve the ongoing problem of retail crime, organized or otherwise.

Owners of New Hampshire’s La Ola Streetwear in Merrimack say five thieves broke into their store at 2:30 a.m. Friday, stealing “tens of thousands” of dollars in apparel and accessories that sell between $500 and $1,000 apiece, local news affiliate WMUR-TV reported.

The store only opened 18 months ago when the retailer made the leap from clicks to bricks. The owners have posted surveillance video of the thefts online asking the public to help identify the suspects.

The Merrimack Police Department did not immediately respond to Sourcing Journal’s request for comment.

Down in Memphis, where thefts are all too common in Tennessee’s second-biggest city, police are still searching for a man and two women who they said stole purses from Marshalls, according to local news affiliate Fox13. Citing a police report, the station reported that the first incident happened on Aug. 30, when the burglars stole 18 purses valued at $800 from the store. On Sept. 22, the same unidentified man, along with another woman, took 18 more purses valued at $800 from the same business, the report said.

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And while stores keep feeling the impact of the more brazen attempts at stealing goods, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is now dealing with its own internal thief. A mail processing clerk at the agency’s Brooklyn, Ohio, branch is accused of stealing parcels worth nearly $8,800. Brandon Monteal Williams, 32, took several packages containing high-end merchandise between January and March this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio.

That includes five pairs of sneakers totaling approximately $1,949, nine Apple iPhones worth roughly $6,049 and one $800 Samsung Galaxy phone, according to Williams’ indictment filed Thursday. He is also charged with embezzling up to $1,000 from the postal service between February and March.

“This type of behavior within the Postal Service is not tolerated and is a rare occurrence,” the USPS Office of Inspector General said in a statement. “It is important for the public we serve to know the overwhelming majority of Postal Service employees are honest, hardworking, and trustworthy individuals who would never consider engaging in any type of criminal behavior.”

Williams faces counts of theft of mail by a postal employee and misappropriation of postal funds. Those federal statutes carry a combined prison sentence of up to six years.

San Francisco, New Mexico take preventative action

With nearly 56 percent of small businesses in the retail sector saying they have been victims of shoplifting in the past year, according to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, municipalities and state officials are stepping up efforts to curb retail crime.

Last week, San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that would expand San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) access to private security cameras, including those put up by homeowners on their own property.

Police will now be able to access non-city cameras with the owner’s consent for live surveillance of large-scale public events and investigations.

The new policy establishes a 15-month pilot program allowing the SFPD to monitor private video feeds within a 24-hour period during life-threatening emergencies and criminal investigations, as well as to redeploy resources during a mass event.

Over in New Mexico, the state’s Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with retail crime intelligence platform Auror to help retailers catch potential thieves in real time, following in the footsteps of neighboring states Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California.

“We are seeing both an increase in retail crime, organized retail crime in New Mexico and in the region, but we’re also seeing an increase in the violence associated with that,” said Rob Black, vice president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce. “I think one of the benefits to this program is that it’s going to save our law enforcement hours and hours. This allows them to do it in one place very efficiently, so our hope is that it becomes a real powerful tool for law enforcement freeing up their time to do more on the groundwork.”

The Auror platform serves business owners on a national and local level. Store employees can use the platform to share video or images of suspected thieves, describe the event that happened and submit it to their local state Organized Retail Crime Association (ORCA). The platform then immediately alerts law enforcement officials.

Aurora, Col. cracks down on retail crime

And in Colorado, one city’s officials just passed an ordinance targeting shoplifters of big-ticket items. On Monday, the Aurora City Council voted in favor of a measure requiring anyone convicted of stealing more than $300 of merchandise to serve three mandatory days in jail. The ordinance passed with a 6-4 vote.

Local Aurora news reports have said that some small businesses have reported losing up to $50,000 so far this year. According to the city’s Havana Business Improvement District, larger businesses have lost up to $1 million.

Fifty percent of small retailers say the retail crime has gotten worse over the past year, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with 46 percent forced to increase their prices over the past 12 months to deal with the impact of store thefts.

“Retail theft is not a victimless crime, and its increasing prevalence means greater danger for store employees and higher costs for law-abiding Americans. Store owners are not only confronted with traditional shoplifting, but increasingly with highly organized criminal gangs who seek to profit by taking advantage of gaps in the law,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bradley called on lawmakers to make changes, including passing legislation to stop the sale of stolen goods on online marketplaces, updating the definition of organized retail crime and increasing criminal penalties and prosecuting criminals for their actions.

Private security services, retailers turn to new hires

Some retailers have been hiring their own external security presence to protect their retail locations. After a Nordstrom in Walnut Creek, Calif. had been a target of a string of robberies in 2021, the store teamed up with local law enforcement to station a uniformed officer at the location. However, that didn’t stop a group of roughly 80 people from coordinating a “smash-and-grab” heist in the store that November.

As of Tuesday, Indeed had 44 job openings when searching for “retail store security guard” in neighboring San Francisco, with the number increasing to 63 in New York City and 101 in Los Angeles. Postings vary from retailers such as Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Ross Stores to private security companies including Allied Universal, Security USA Inc., Brosnan Risk Consultants and more.

Private security firms Off Duty Officers and Sentinel MGI, both of which claim to service New York City, did not immediately return Sourcing Journal’s request for comment.

Five of the six most recent postings on Indeed in New York include “high-end” or “luxury” in the job title, perhaps an indicator of the struggle luxury fashion firms face when defending themselves from would-be thieves and flash mobs. One of the most high-profile incidents this year targeted The RealReal’s Madison Ave. store as smash-and-grab thieves stole nearly $500,000 in pricey merchandise.

The city has had its hands full this year when it comes to retail crime, with the New York Police Department (NYPD) arresting 41 people in a $3.8 million bust in May.