Reported shoplifting incidents in 24 U.S. cities rebounded in the first half of this year compared with levels before the pandemic, with the trend driven by a large number of cases in New York City, reports the think tank Council on Criminal Justice.
Analyzing trends in 24 cities where police have published data over the past five, the council found that shoplifting reports were 16% higher (about 8,450 more incidents) during the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2019.
If New York City is excluded, the number among the cities included was 7% lower (about 2,550
New York (+64%) and Los Angeles (+61%) recorded the biggest growth in reported shoplifting from mid-year 2019 to mid-year 2023. St. Petersburg, Fla., (-78%) and St. Paul (-65%) had the largest decreases.
This year, Los Angeles (+109%) and Dallas (+73%) experienced the largest increases compared with the first half of last year. San Francisco (-35%) and Seattle (-31%) reported the biggest drops.
“Shoplifting, especially ‘smash and grab’ episodes caught on video, has received extensive attention from the media and policymakers, and retailers have cited theft concerns in closing stores and placing goods in locked cases,” said the council's Ernesto Lopez, co-author of he report. “Far better data from law enforcement and the retail industry data is needed to help strengthen our grasp of shoplifting trends. For now, it’s unclear if the increase is a result of increased shoplifting, increased reporting from businesses to police, or a combination of both.”
The council study was based on data from local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Justice Department’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Because the data reflect only reported incidents, they undercount total shoplifting.
The median value of goods stolen in shoplifting incidents grew from about $75 in 2019 to roughly $100 in 2021. The vast majority (90%) of shoplifting incidents in 2021 involved $756 or less, a $184 increase from 2019.
The share of shoplifting incidents categorized as felonies (in five of the cities) nearly doubled from about 8% prior to the pandemic to almost 16% in the first half of 2023. State statutes set felony theft dollar thresholds.
“It’s critical that we distinguish quantity from quality,” said council President Adam Gelb. “The overall data doesn’t indicate a great shift in the average shoplifting event, but the brazen ransacking incidents, coordinated on social media and captured on video, clearly suggest that there is a sense of lawlessness afoot, that anything goes. We typically think of serious violent crimes, like mass shootings, as the offenses that spark fear and drive the politics of crime. But these mass shoplifting events have the potential to derail two decades of criminal justice reform.”