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With Little Data, State Raise Penalties For Shoplifting

During an appearance last year on the show Fox and Friends, a former chief executive of Home Depot described a rise in shoplifting in dire terms. “Today, this thing is an epidemic,” he said. “It’s spreading faster than COVID.” The executive joined a long list of industry leaders, from Walmart to Walgreens, encouraging police and prosecutors to crack down on theft. Retailers say they’ll be forced to raise prices or shutter stores without help to address a growing threat — organized bands of shoplifters ransacking stores with the intent to resell the looted merchandise, report The Marshall Project and Slate. In a handful of states, lawmakers have reacted swiftly. Last year, legislators in California, Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina stiffened penalties for stealing from stores, adding language to target people who act in concert or rob multiple outlets. Under a new Louisiana law, anyone caught stealing as part of a group could face up to seven years in prison.

Retail lobbyists say this kind of theft is a problem for stores large and small in every state. Still, it’s unclear how much worse retail theft has become.. National statistics are unreliable. Nearly forty percent of law enforcement agencies did not report their most recent crime data to the FBI. Even if they had, most police departments do not have a separate category to distinguish retail theft from other kinds of robberies and larceny. Yet, lawmakers in at least 11 states are considering legislation that would more harshly punish people caught stealing from stores with the intent to resell merchandise. The panic over retail theft offers a real-time look at the making of crime policy. In the absence of reliable data, and in response to perceptions of lawlessness, legislators have doubled down on punitive policies. In some states, elected officials have capitalized on the shoplifting uproar in an attempt to roll back recently enacted criminal justice reforms..


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