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NYC Reports Shoplifting Surge During The Pandemic

New York City’s storefront businesses, weathering inflation and an uneven recovery from the pandemic, are contending with what the police say is a dramatic increase in shoplifting. A relative handful of shoplifters are responsible for an outsize percentage of retail crime, the New York Times reports. Nearly a third of shoplifting arrests in New York City last year involved just 327 people. Collectively, they were arrested and rearrested more than 6,000 times, said Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell. Some engage in shoplifting as a trade, while others are driven by addiction or mental illness. The victims are also concentrated: 18 department stores and seven chain pharmacy locations accounted for 20 percent of all complaints. Petty thefts are a main driver of the city’s crime rate, even as murders, shootings and other violent crimes have continued to drop.

Criminal justice reform advocates have say petty thefts are a crime of necessity, and that many down-on-their-luck New Yorkers are stealing what they need to survive in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Law enforcement and trade groups blame a proliferation of organized shoplifting crews, repeat offenders and the new state bail law that they argue has enabled such offenders to avoid jail time. Last year, 41 people were indicted in New York City in a theft ring that state prosecutors said shoplifted millions of dollars worth of beauty products and luxury goods that were sold online. By the end of 2022, the theft of items valued at less than $1,000 had increased 53 percent since 2019 at major commercial locations, found an analysis of police data by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Over the past five years, shoplifting complaints nearly doubled, peaking at nearly 64,000 last year. Only about 34 percent resulted in arrests last year, compared with 60 percent in 2017. Accosting a shoplifter is a risk, said Tchalare Idrissou, a clerk at a 99 Cent Zone store in the Bronx. Clerks at the store confronted and threw out a man they had seen shoplifting twice before on security camera footage. “When you’re trying to stop them from stealing, they engage and try to fight,” Idrissou said, adding: “Sometimes we let them go with the stuff, because sometimes some of them have the weapons. Sometimes knives."

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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