The Massachusetts loss prevention community has a new set of tools in their fight against Organized Retail Crime thanks to a new law that went into effect on April 6, 2015. The law reforms the Massachusetts civil recovery statute pertaining to theft and establishes a set of laws designed to help merchants, law enforcement and prosecutors combat Organized Retail Crime (ORC). The Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) applauds the implementation of this important new legislation, designed to criminalize and deter organized retail theft and reform the state’s civil recovery law.
For the past decade the focus of the retail industry’s loss prevention community has expanded beyond individual shoplifters to include sophisticated theft rings that cost U.S. retailers more than $30 billion annually—an estimated $750 million in Massachusetts alone.
“The estimated cost of ORC exceeds the cost of all other property crimes combined. This includes bank robberies, automobile theft, and burglaries, just to name a few,” said RAM President, Jon Hurst, “This legislation provides loss prevention personnel, law enforcement and prosecutors the tools needed to adequately investigate and prosecute ORC. Until now, our existing criminal laws had been insufficient to properly address this type activity.”
Organized Retail Crime
The cost of ORC goes beyond retailers’ bottom lines as such activity also risks the safety and security of employees and customers, presents general public health and public safety concerns, drives up pricing for honest consumers and deprives the Commonwealth of much needed sales tax revenue.
“Organized retail crime is not only a multi-billion dollar burden on retailers but also poses public safety and health risks,” stated Representative David Linsky of Natick, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This is not about catching shoplifters, but combating large-scale organized theft rings that our current laws do not adequately address.”
Massachusetts now joins 26 other states that have adopted laws targeting ORC. In addition to defining and criminalizing ORC, the law imposes heightened penalties for ORC-related activities, amends the receipt of stolen property law to allow for police and LP conducted stings, and expands the jurisdictional scope of prosecutors when they find a pattern of criminal activity.
Civil Recovery Reform
The new law also makes changes to the state’s civil recovery law which allows retailers to request payment of a civil penalty from individuals involved in a theft incident. The changes now limit the amount of the penalty that can be requested based on the value of the merchandise in question. Based on these changes, merchants can no longer request the maximum civil penalty of $500 for all shoplifting incidents. Instead, merchants must now limit the amount of the civil penalty they request based on the following framework:
In addition to requesting the value of the merchandise stolen or damaged, merchants may also request a civil penalty of
- not more than $50 if the value of the merchandise is $50 or less,
- not more than $250 if the value of the merchandise is more than $50 but less than $250,
- not more than $500 if the value of the merchandise is more than $250.
Merchants that administer a civil recovery program are urged to review their program to ensure that it is reflective of these prescribed limitations. The law imposes a fine of up to $500 on anyone who solicits a civil penalty that exceeds the limitations provided above.
“This is a balanced bill,” said Senator William N. Brownsberger, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, “It should help protect the public from the costs of criminal organized retail theft, while making the civil legal system fairer to innocent people.”
For the text of the final law please go to https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2014/Chapter451
Merchants with questions regarding this new legislation may also contact the Retailers Association of Massachusetts directly at 617-523-1900.