The size, audacity, and violence of a recent wave of brazen retail thefts in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago have put organized retail crime (ORC) in the spotlight this holiday season. But ORC has been a growing threat for decades.
The National Retail Federation reported a 60 percent rise in ORC in the U.S. since 2015, with nearly 70 percent of retailers seeing an increase in 2021. The rise in ORC has brought with it an increase in retail violence, with over 500 people – including employees & shoppers – killed in retail crimes in 2020.
Low Risk, High Reward Crime
The rise in ORC in the U.S. is attributable to many factors, starting with the reality that no federal law prevents this type of activity, and some states have decriminalized low-level offenses. Lynda Buel, president of security consulting firm SRMC told CNN that “For the low-level criminal, the benefit far outweighs the risk, since the threshold for a misdemeanor offense is $950 — meaning that a person can steal up to that amount and only be charged with a misdemeanor.”
Additionally, with law enforcement stretched thin and mask mandates providing anonymity, the chances of being apprehended are low. If apprehended, perpetrators can post low bail or signature bond, and charges are often dropped if the merchandise value is under felony level. Even if prosecuted and convicted, perpetrators rarely receive jail time. With the many online platforms available to sell stolen items, the profitability of this crime is substantial. Large ORC crews in some locales have netted in excess of $1M in illicit profits.
Without federal laws in place, cities and counties must commit to arresting, prosecuting, and convicting ORC criminals and gangs to deter these crimes. Greater collaboration is needed between retailers, law enforcement and prosecutors to identify ORC gang leaders and sellers of stolen merchandise.
Technology including predictive analytics, automatic license plate readers (ALPR), body-worn cameras and video evidence sharing platforms can help coordinate efforts and lead to successful prosecution of these perpetrators on felony charges and jail time. Retailers can deploy a unified security platform to tie these technologies together to streamline monitoring and response.
Online marketplace platforms can actively monitor high volume sellers of merchandise listed as ‘new’ and work more closely with retailers asking for assistance on cases. Social media platforms could help stem the tide by alerting law enforcement when “flash mob” gatherings are planned at retail establishments. When shopping online, consumers can impact ORC by being aware that substantially lower prices on branded merchandise offered by unaffiliated sellers could mean items are potentially stolen or counterfeit.
The author, Scott Thomas, is General Director, Retail & Hospitality, at Genetec