Is the Rise of Organized Retail Crime a Product of Soft Sentencing?

If not sentenced more harshly, those convicted will almost certainly continue their behavior

shoplifting laws

During a panel discussion on organized retail crime (ORC), the panel discussed current ORC issues, legislation, coalitions, online sales of stolen property, and industry information sharing. The panel consisted of six of the top ORC minds in the industry, all of whom agreed that organized retail crime is on the rise, and more and more criminals are committing these nonviolent crimes.

The moderator asked specific questions relating to retail theft, and these experts were quick to answer and share information on steps they are taking to battle organized retail crime. They talked about the many successes in the past few years, which include building law enforcement interest (ORC coalitions) across the country. Considering ongoing efforts to collaborate with organized law enforcement-retail coalitions nationwide, getting police and retailers working together to solve these crimes is by far the most important element concerning organized retail crime.

The panel agreed that states that have passed organized retail crime legislation of some type have enhanced loss prevention and law enforcement success in arrest and prosecution of these criminals. All agreed that there was a real need for federal ORC legislation.

Soft Sentencing

All in all, the ORC panel discussion was very informational but left several questions in my mind regarding new strategies dealing with organized retail crime issues. Little was discussed concerning the many states that are moving forward with non-prison sentencing for nonviolent crimes or the early release from prison for those criminals. Already, some states have passed legislation that threatens the ability of retail loss prevention and law enforcement to stop these criminals from coming into stores and working their trade.

For example, Indiana’s legislature, which is controlled by conservatives in both houses, and its governor’s office changed many of the misdemeanor and felony laws and sentencing levels. Before these changes, theft was a felony regardless of its dollar value, and a misdemeanor catch-all charge of conversion existed for minor thefts. Indiana changed all that in 2014. Theft under $750 is now a misdemeanor. Even worse for retailers, the levels of felonies have been changed, with theft and fraud falling into lower level felonies.

The legislature also changed laws regarding prison sentencing. Those committing nonviolent crimes will not be sentenced to prison but rather dealt with at the community level. We know that many of these criminals are addicted to some form of narcotic or drug and, if not sentenced more harshly, will almost certainly continue with their behavior. Criminals involved in these types of low felonies realize the best payoff is retail theft. Although fences are readily available, many boosters know they can sell their stolen products online without the need of a fence. Indiana will become the place to be for those involved in ORC, both boosting and fencing.

Other states are planning to adopt similar truth-in-sentencing laws. Getting states to stop making changes to sentencing is probably impossible, but it would be easy to write language into proposed bills to help protect retailers from these nonviolent criminals. For example, an Internet fencing bill would not be difficult to write. Those in government relations can make legislators aware of these serious crimes and their impact on retail business, taxes, and customers, asking for language that helps protect retailers from these emerging online sales.

It would also be wise to write bills that make these crimes more seriously punished if drugs are involved in the crime or if committed by persons with prior convictions of any type of retail theft; bills that enhance the penalty when crime is committed by two or more convicted felons or by undocumented persons; and bills that enhance sentences if store employees are involved or (and this is important) if the fence is buying stolen property while employed by or owning a retail business.

Next Steps

Much can be done, but someone has to be willing to step up to the plate and lead the way. We can all agree that legislation is an important avenue in controlling organized retail crime. I believe together we can generate interest in combating truth-in-sentencing laws. We can implement changes to legislation that will help ensure punishment is a fair representation of the seriousness of the crimes committed, rather than continue allowing organized retail crime to be the most profitable, lowest consequence crime in society today.

To learn more, read the full 2015 article on “Time for Some Hard Work on Soft Sentencing” from LP Magazine.

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