In the summer of 2022, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) entered into a first-of-its-kind national partnership to combat organized retail crime and habitual theft. The launch followed a groundbreaking Retail Theft Roundtable that brought together leading retailers and prosecutors’ offices from around the country to establish open lines of communication. The goal was collaboration; to identify common challenges, share information on repeat offenders, capture trends, develop training materials, and ultimately do more together to identify criminal networks targeting local retailers.
Nearly a year later, the partnership is already paying dividends. Prosecutors and retail asset protection teams from some of the nation’s largest and most sophisticated retailers are collaborating on cases, sharing data, identifying organized rings operating within communities, and developing strategies. Doing so ensures these rings can no longer operate with impunity.
“We’ve already exceeded expectations, and it’s because retailers and prosecutors were clearly hungry to collaborate,” said RILA Senior Executive Vice President For Retail Operations Lisa LaBruno. “This partnership isn’t a blue ribbon committee, it’s a collaboration juggernaut. Since our first organizational meeting, retailers and front line prosecutors have hit the ground running and are already building cases against known offenders. It’s been a wildly successful start. We’re not sharing hypothetical best practices; we’re already sharing success stories.”
The challenge to tackle ORC (organized retail crime) and habitual theft is complex, but the retail industry is making progress in the fight. Over a dozen states have launched ORC task forces, and passage of the federal INFORM Consumers Act will make it harder for criminal networks to fence stolen product anonymously online. While these wins are incredibly important, it’s the local prosecutors who often control case disposition and the consequential impact on communities, said LaBruno. “Activity in Washington, DC—transparency, collaboration—collectively, these wins will help stem the tide of retail theft. But it’s the local district attorneys who are vested in their communities, hold the get out of jail free card, and are uniquely positioned to achieve the desired outcome (incarceration vs. rehabilitation).”
NDAA Executive Director Nelson Bunn said the partnership is a unique opportunity for local governments and private industry to join forces to address a shared problem, pooling resources and expertise to find tangible solutions.
“Too often, local governments and the private sector operate in their own silos. Our partnership with RILA empowers retailers and district attorneys to break down barriers and work together,” said Bunn.
Bunn also made clear that ORC is a problem touching every part of the country. “ORC isn’t just an urban problem, it’s impacting rural and suburban counties too. This is a problem that cuts across demographics and political lines,” said Bunn.
Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together
Building cases against criminal rings and habitual theft offenders is no easy feat; especially when criminal activity spans jurisdictions, involves boosters, and other criminal actors who may be difficult to identify. When a district attorney concludes that there is insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution, it can be demoralizing for investigators who have spent months building a case. Collaborating early on when building investigations enables prosecutors and retailers to fill evidentiary gaps along the way, so when it comes time for arrest or grand jury presentment, there’s a level of assurance that the case has legs.
“Retail theft investigations and prosecutions—especially those involving sophisticated ORC rings—are like putting together a puzzle,” said LaBruno. “When pieces are missing, you have an incomplete picture of the crime. That’s why it’s crucial for retailers and prosecutors to collaborate…to find the missing piece together.”
“ORC is leading to more brazen, more violent attacks in retail stores throughout the country, and many of the criminal rings orchestrating these thefts are also involved in other serious criminal activity,” said Homeland Security Investigations Acting Executive Associate Director Steve Francis. “Tackling this growing threat is important to the safety of store employees, customers, and communities across the country.”
“The partnership between retailers and district attorneys on retail theft cases will pay dividends for entire communities,” said Bunn. “Model investigation and prosecution programs will help identify the worst offenders and seek to impose sentences that are aimed at reducing recidivism, which in turn enables stores to thrive and preserves the vibrancy of local communities.”
Growing the Partnership: The Retail Theft Roundtable
In April at the RILA Asset Protection Conference, the 2nd Annual Retail Theft Roundtable collaboration will once again attract district attorneys and asset protection executives from across the country. Here, they can brainstorm on their most pressing challenges, share best practices, and problem solve together. District attorneys planning to join us in Denver will travel from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Texas, and other states experiencing a broad range of challenges when it comes to combating retail theft.
“Retailers are extremely grateful to continue this collaboration and given the progress we’ve made in less than a year, I am supremely optimistic that our work will pay dividends for communities all across the country,” said LaBruno.