Spectrum News, June 23, 2023 — New York lawmakers want to tackle what retailers have called a $100 billion problem that is national in scope: Organized crime rings have targeted stores large and small to steal products off the shelves.

Consumers can notice the consequences, too. Products that were once readily available are now under lock and key in an attempt to thwart widespread theft.

“When you have to ask somebody to open up a case so you can get a tube of toothpaste, you know you have a problem,” said state Assemblyman John McDonald.

The Legislature gave final approval this month to a measure that would create a task force to address the issue. If signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the 15-member panel would be composed of appointees by the state Senate, Assembly, governor and state attorney general to develop recommendations for legislation and regulations.

“Individuals are going in and literally cleaning out retail establishments, which is wrong, it’s criminal, it’s inappropriate,” McDonald said. “It also has an impact on the economy.”

Retail organizations have supported the creation of the task force, which could examine and ultimately borrow ideas from other states. Many of the thefts are believed to be linked to organized crime rings, which ultimately sell the stolen goods online — essentially shoplifting on an industrial scale.

“Over the past several years, our members have seen a sharp increase in retail theft, threatening the vitality and security of businesses both large and small throughout New York City and state,” said Nelson Eusebio, the director of government affairs for the National Supermarket Association.

The Retail Council of New York State also pushed for the creation of the task force, pointing to the need for “interagency coordination.”

“Lawmakers throughout the country recognize the need for regulation in this space,” the group said. “Washington, California, Colorado, Illinois, Connecticut and nine other states have established an organized retail crime task force.”

There are also considerations for worker safety. Earlier this year, the Legislature considered new penalties for assaulting retail store employees backed by state Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton.

“They were deemed essential during the pandemic, so we’re trying to do everything we can to increase protections for those in their workplace,” she said.

While the increased penalties proposal did not pass, McDonald wants the task force to address worker safety in addition to the law enforcement problem.

“They are turning out to be on the frontline,” McDonald said. “So, we want to look for what are the best practices happening in other states, what can we do collaboratively whether it’s future regulation or laws to really send a message that this activity is not to be tolerated.”


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