Retailers nationwide seek help in fight against smash-and-grabs

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(NewsNation Now) — As thieves become increasingly bold, retailers are seeking support from their police and lawmakers to prevent the kinds of smash-and-grab robberies that are taking hold nationwide in places such as Florida, California and Illinois.

In an effort to protect their stores, retailers throughout the country are dedicating more money and resources to loss prevention equipment and technology, according to the National Retail Federation. Surveillance and security systems have helped to apprehend suspected thieves, but investing in new technology or increasing police presence alone isn’t likely to mitigate the problem. Some believe it will take a collaborative effort between retailers, police, lawmakers and court officials to make a lasting impression.

“They’re protecting themselves already, doing the best to protect themselves and their customers,” said Illinois Retail Merchants Association President Rob Karr. “We need cooperation.”

Organized retail crime now costs retailers an average of $700,000 per $1 billion in sales, and three-fourths of retailers saw an increase in organized retail crime in 2020, according to the NRF.

NewsNation reached out to 100 police departments, 26 of which responded with statements about their efforts to combat the recent wave of robberies.

Departments throughout the country agreed that to protect personal items, people should lock their cars and avoid having packages delivered to areas where they might be left out in the open. As for retail safety, customers are likely to notice increased police presence near shopping centers this holiday season.

“Many retail establishments will hire off-duty officers to work at their business in uniform as a deterrent/security,” the Kansas City Police Department said in a statement.

Those officers tend to work more hours at businesses that experience an uptick in shoppers during the holiday.

Organized retail crime has been on the rise for years, but it’s only now reached a threshold that has garnered more of the public’s attention, Karr said.

Although the pandemic might have underscored the rising retail crime rate, it wasn’t the catalyst, he said. In any case, the solution can’t be placed solely on the retailers.

“We can’t arrest. We can’t prosecute. We can’t sentence. We can’t enforce probation,” Karr said. “That requires everyone else.”

Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd called the recent spate of smash-grab robberies a “symptom of the local community that allows that to occur.”

“My message is clear: to the local prosecutors, to the local legislators that create those laws, whether it’s the city commission, county commission, state legislators, whether it’s the prosecutors, the law enforcement officers — hold people accountable,” Judd said. “If you don’t, expect more of what you’re getting right now.”

In Miami, Florida, a security alarm notified shoe store co-owner Myrick Mitchell of an ongoing robbery early enough for police to catch all but one suspect before anything was stolen.

“They actually broke into the back of the shop. It was boarded up because of the previous burglaries so we were waiting for the windows and everything to get fixed,” Mitchell said. “But that didn’t even stop them.”

Security footage showed the suspects prying plywood from the back of the building for about 20 minutes to gain entry, Mitchell said.

“Why try to take from the small people, you know what I mean? Be more of a Robin Hood,” Mitchell said. “Don’t try to steal from small businesses. We work hard. This is how we feed our families.”

But larger businesses also have felt the impact of the rise in retail crime.

CVS said in a statement to NewsNation that the pharmacy has experienced a 300% increase in retail theft since the pandemic began.

“The safety of our customers and employees is a high priority and we have security measures in place that are continually reviewed to help ensure our stores remain safe environments to work, shop and fill prescriptions,” CVS said.

Driving organized retail crime rings, however, is a demand for the stolen goods — often sold online at a discounted rate, Judd said.

“So when the community goes on eBay or goes into a social media room and is buying brand new razor blades that sell for, you know $20, (but they’re buying) a pack for $10 or $5, they’re adding to the problem,” Judd said.

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