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Can Democrats Seize Anticrime Message In Retail Theft Crackdown?

Democrats want to talk tough on crime in an election year. Their target is shoplifting. Successfully pursuing retail theft could rob the GOP of a message on criminal justice and give Democrats a national roadmap for addressing the issue.


New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is waging a war on shoplifters through a mix of tougher criminal penalties and funding in her $233 billion budget proposal. She wants to create new police teams to address the issue, while offering a tax credit for businesses to help bolster security measures.


Hochul’s move comes as Democrats try to flip five U.S. House seats in New York in the narrowly-divided chamber this year, while Republicans press on with the anti-crime message that has helped them clinch electoral victories throughout the U.S., reports Politico.


“It’s a perception because it’s happening right in front of their face,” said state Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, a Democrat who represents heavily Republican Staten Island. “You walk into a store and everything is locked up.”


The GOP has effectively linked Democrats to spikes in crime, and tackling shoplifting makes political sense: Voters see everyday items under lock and key or social media videos of thieves picking shelves clean.


In New York, Republicans in suburban House districts like Reps. Anthony D’Esposito and Nick LaLota clinched victory in 2022 with a focus on crime and are both facing reelection challenges this year.


California could be in for a change of direction, with many officials there citing retail theft as a breaking point for the state. Getting tougher policies on crime would be a departure for the state after years of rewritten sentencing laws favored by the left.


In New York, Democratic consultant Alyssa Cass said, "I think this is really smart politics from the governor. It’s taking away a big talking point for Republicans. They talk about this retail stuff all the time.”


Republicans are signaling they’re not going to relinquish this potent message, no matter what Hochul does.


“Violent crime is still up and the fact is when you have grand theft auto, when you have retail theft happening all around us and people still seeing that violent criminals are getting off and being released, yeah, it’s still going to be a major issue,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y), who is facing a competitive challenge.


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