During the pandemic's early months, stores became tinderboxes for a society frazzled by lockdowns, protests and mask mandates. Many workers say that tension persists, even as the pandemic recedes, and that they need more protections, the New York Times reports. An analysis of FBI assault data finds that the number of assaults in many retail establishments has been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. From 2018 to 2020, assaults reported by law enforcement agencies overall rose 42 percent. Of the more than two million assaults reported in 2020, about four percent were at shopping malls, convenience stores and other similar locations. Last year, more than half the active shooter attacks occurred in places of commerce, including stores. “Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski of the National Retail Federation.
Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms. Many people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores permanently to bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers. Store employees have begun capturing episodes of violence, either against workers or between customers, on their phones in an effort to bring attention to the problem. Employees typically lose their jobs if they physically try to stop or confront a shoplifter, a policy meant to protect them from harm. This policy might invite more crime. Some workers say it's hard when companies are slow to act when they point out a potentially dangerous customer. The industry says it is focusing on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. Retailers have wavered between taking a hard line on thieves and unruly customers and letting them go.