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Organized Retail Crime and Violence: What Every Employee Should Know

On an Autumn day in October of 2022, a split-second decision changed lives. The event occurred at a Home Depot retail store in Hillsborough, North Carolina where employee Gary Rasor was working in the store’s garden center. Surveillance footage shows the seasoned employee quickly stepping out of the garden center booth to approach a masked suspect as he is attempting to exit the store with a shopping cart filled with three pressure washers.

Rasor attempts to step in front of the suspected thief and extends his arm while trying to deter the alleged theft. However, when confronted, the suspect can be seen thrusting a forceful right arm, violently shoving the employee to avoid detention. Rasor stumbles to the concrete floor while the suspect continues to push the cart out of the store and flees the scene.

As Rasor falls, he can be seen hitting his head on a potted plant as he violently hits the concrete. The 83-year-old man was left unable to walk, enduring a broken pelvis and hip as well as suffering a mild heart attack. His condition continued to deteriorate as the weeks passed, and on December 1st, he died due to complications from his injuries. Police have confirmed his death was linked to the injuries he suffered, and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

Mourning a Tragic Loss

“We are heartbroken by the loss of our associate Gary,” said Margaret Smith, a spokesperson for The Home Depot. “He was an amazing friend, husband, father, and grandfather, always willing to help anyone. Hillsborough associates just celebrated his 83rd birthday with him. Right now, our top concern is supporting his family and our associates during this difficult time.”

- Digital Partner -
Jeff Nieman

Rasor worked at the store for nine years. His wife said that she and her husband had plans to retire, travel, and meet their new grandchild for the first time. The couple had bought plane tickets to visit family during the holidays, and never gave up hope that he would recover from his injuries. Rasor was an Army veteran who throughout his life worked in various industries before moving to Durham and working at the Hillsborough Home Depot. He is survived by his wife, son, two daughters, three stepdaughters, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

His son Jeff added: “It’s just beyond our comprehension that someone would do this for a couple of power washers…that just is mind-boggling.”

What He Couldn’t Know

There are very few of us that can’t relate to the actions Rasor took on that day as he attempted to confront the man exiting the store. Well known as a good and honest man, he was simply looking to do what he thought was responsible and the right thing. Considering the entire episode happened in a matter of seconds, there was little time to process how to respond, or what the potential outcome might be.

What can’t be anticipated, is the moral compass of the individual on the other end of the confrontation; their standard of conduct, their aggressive nature, or their motivation to steal. We can’t fully grasp the desperation to escape, rather than facing the consequences of their actions. It wouldn’t be known whether the individual has a weapon, or even accomplices that might assist in the criminal conduct.

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Investigators diligently sought leads in the months following the theft. Public support was also very strong, with numerous media outlets posting the suspect’s image and asking for assistance in identifying the perpetrator. Then on January 24, 2023, police arrested a man in connection with the incident.

Based on the investigation, Terry McAnthony McMillian Jr., 26, of Durham, North Carolina was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and robbery. According to court records, McMillian has a long history of criminal conduct, speckled with numerous thefts and other violent crimes and behavior. Having already faced a mountain of criminal charges as a young adult, he now faces up to life in prison without parole.

All of us tend to see the world through our own eyes. But there is always the potential for an individual like this to be on the other end of that confrontation. There’s nothing in the store that’s worth that risk. In this situation a life was lost, and another faces the prospects of a life behind bars.

“When someone is in the commission of certain enumerated crimes and during the commission of that crime commits an act that results in a person’s death, they can be charged with first-degree murder under the felony murder rule,” said Jeff Nieman, district attorney for Chatham and Orange counties in North Carolina.

- Digital Partner -

In the case of Gary Rasor, what began as a theft took a terrible turn. A dedicated and loyal employee, valued by his company and loved by his family and friends, tragically got in the way. In a matter of seconds, lives changed, a family grieves, and a community mourns.

Organized Retail Crime, Not Shoplifting

Unfortunately, Jeff Rasor’s comments point to a disturbing trend that has taken the retail industry by storm over the past several years. While it may be beyond our comprehension that someone would do this for a couple of pressure washers, it’s more complicated than that. This is likely not a case of shoplifting, but rather a glimpse of what has become a multi-billion-dollar problem. Rather than “a couple of power washers,” this is a much more serious threat to our employees, our customers, our stores, and our communities.

Three pressure washers are not exactly what one might expect to be stolen for personal use, and were more likely stolen to be resold for financial gain. Based on the available information, it can be strongly speculated that this $837 theft was an incident involving organized retail crime rather than a simple case of shoplifting.

Organized retail crime (ORC) can operate on a local, regional, national, or international scale. These intricate criminal operations are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in losses each year and can devastate a retail business. Considering the potential financial gains, many of these incidents are becoming exponentially more violent. People are being threatened. People are getting hurt. And in some circumstances, people are getting killed.

Make no mistake—ORC is organized crime. Theft operations can range from simple to extremely complex, and teams can steal thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise in a single day. Multi- million-dollar cases have become far too common, with operations evolving into criminal enterprises rather than isolated thefts.

Beyond the Dollars

Unfortunately, that’s only part of the story. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, working in the retail industry is one of the highest risk jobs for workplace violence. In an environment where we invite the public into our stores—where money is handled, products are available, and individuals of varying means and agendas are received, violence can come in many forms. Whether it’s forms of verbal abuse or threats to physical violence.

Among the most potentially volatile situations are those involving ORC. While most customers are honest, hard-working people that simply wish to buy the things they want or need, we also occasionally deal with individuals attempting to acquire those products without payment. To get the things they want—or to use those goods to get other things they want— some people steal. However, it’s dealing with the actual event and confronting those that have followed through on these poor decisions where things can get much more complicated.

Unfortunately, these incidents have become far too common. And while ORC has been on the rise for some time, there have been increased levels of violence, threats, intimidation, and use of weapons by those stealing from retail stores over the past several years.

Rich Rossman

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in violent behavior, especially when the incident involves ORC,” says Sergeant Rich Rossman, president at the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail (CLEAR). “These criminals are becoming more and more emboldened. This isn’t just shoplifting. They are going into the store with a mission and intend to leave the store with that mission completed. If someone gets in the way, that person risks getting hurt.”

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2021 National Retail Security Survey, 57 percent of retailers indicated a rise in ORC. These changes coupled with new law enforcement and prosecution policies in many cities have impacted store safety, with 65 percent of respondents reporting that ORC teams are showing higher levels of violence and aggression than ever before.

In LPM’s 2023 Violence in the Retail Workplace survey, more than 90 percent of retail respondents indicated the threat of violence as the result of shoplifting and ORC has increased in their area of responsibility over the past five years, with 55 percent reporting it has significantly increased. “I have never seen such a disregard for life, people’s safety, and overall lack of regard in the last few years than in my entire 25-year career in risk,” claims one respondent.

This is not the same as dealing with an angry or disgruntled customer. We never know exactly who we are dealing with or what we might face. Fear and desperation are completely different emotions, and the results can be unpredictable. From the thief’s perspective, the consequences can include everything from embarrassment to a loss of personal freedom—an outcome that many will try to avoid at all costs. Situations can turn violent, and someone can end up getting hurt.

It’s through our ability to safely and effectively navigate that critical point of confrontation that the situation will be successfully managed—or pivot into something that we didn’t want or expect.

Mitigating the Risk

To help mitigate risk, retailers are working diligently to improve training and awareness, instilling practices to help keep employees and customers safe. With the increasingly aggressive nature of these individuals, many retailers have scaled back intervention at the store level. Many have implemented a “hands off” approach, with policies and programs strongly discouraging associates from confronting those committing thefts or attempting to stop individuals as they attempt to exit the store.

Even the loss prevention teams are now schooled on dealing with these individuals. “Knowing when to let it go” has become an overriding principle, with LP teams trained to avoid situations that can put themselves and others in harm’s way, and strictly prohibiting the pursuit of individuals beyond designated bounds.

This does not imply that the problem is being ignored or minimized. On the contrary, retailers are now using dedicated teams that operate beyond the stores to target those involved in ORC crimes, including the fences and third-party interests where most ORC merchandise is sold. They are working diligently with employees to improve training and awareness, learning more about what to look for. Systems for store personnel to report activities and track data are now in place to pass information on to ORC teams for investigation. Many are allocating additional technology resources and capital to support these efforts and encouraging LP personnel to participate in organized retail crime associations to further support these efforts.

Many companies—with The Home Depot among the industry leaders—have taken significant steps forward working with other retailers, our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, and district attorneys across the country to identify current trends, educate, provide essential resources, and build strong investigations. They are establishing exceptional relationships to battle the ongoing wave of issues and working with lawmakers to instill meaningful change in legislation to help turn the tide. But there is still much more that needs to be done.

Legislation must increase to match the threat that store employees and customers are facing. We can no longer tolerate looking at these issues as simple property crimes and minimize the impact this is having on our society. Working together, we’ve made strides. But legislators must stop the political posturing and step up to the plate. All of us need to work together to find real solutions that make sense.

What You Can Do

The most important thing that you can do is be smart and stay safe. Every retailer will tell you that you have a responsibility to protect the assets of the company. However, what’s critical to understand is that our most important asset is our people. Our overriding responsibility is to keep the employees and customers safe. There is not a single piece of merchandise in the store worth someone getting hurt, and not a single legitimate retail company will tell you otherwise.

Make informed decisions whenever possible, digesting all available information, analyzing the potential outcomes, benefits, and risks, and determining which course of action is best under the circumstances. When it comes to ORC, this is crucial.

Sometimes decisions are made in an instant, and we don’t always have the option to think it through. But in that instant, the world can change. That’s when it’s most important to rely on what we’ve learned and respond accordingly.

Confronting a potential thief always carries with it the potential for an unpredictable outcome. It’s critical to remain alert and aware, prepared for the unexpected, and know how to react. Most importantly, this also requires having the judgment and fortitude to let it go when the situation calls for it. It could end up being one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

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