WAMC Northeast Public Radio
November 13, 2023

Two Capital Region state Assemblymembers are urging New York Governor Kathy Hochul to sign a bill they say will protect retailers and their employees.

Assemblyman John McDonald of the 108th district, one of the measure’s cosponsors, says $4.4 billion is lost to retail theft annually in the state, and $100 billion nationally. Speaking Thursday in Albany as the holiday season neared, the Democrat called on Hochul to sign the bill, which would establish a state organized retail crime task force.

“This has seen a huge uptick since the pandemic, a 26.5% uptick in organized retail theft. This is impacting businesses. But just as importantly, it’s impacting the people working in these retail establishments. It’s also impacting the individuals shopping in these retail establishments.” McDonald said.

The 15-member body will consist of appointed representatives from retail business organizations, law enforcement, and other interests.

Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, whose 109th District includes Albany, says theft also drives business away from local stores and toward online retail.

“It’s not just the locked-up toothpaste when people do go in. I’ve seen this in my own family. There isn’t a clerk to be found often to open up that cabinet,” Fahy said.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says theft is often a symptom of larger problems in society.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of empty beds sitting in facilities that provide addiction services. And so we’re not connecting people to those services as well,” Sheehan said.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy is a fellow Democrat.

“To be faced with this violence, or the fear of you know, people just, as Mayor Sheehan has said, what mental health problems are all these issues come in to opiate addiction coming out of COVID and to be worried about your child going off to work and then sitting there, going to think they’re in a safe environment, and people are coming in stealing stuff screaming at them, or like they’re saying, you know, yelling for somebody to get toothpaste because it’s locked up,” McCoy said.

Sheriff Craig Apple says many stores don’t bother calling the police any more.

“We also need to look at the catch and release of letting somebody such as one person in this county that has been arrested over 25 times this year, just 25 times in the last 10 months for larceny and let back out to do it again. We got people right now in Albany County that- we have over 2500 larcenies in the county, those are just the documented ones,” Apple said.

Melissa O’Connor of the Retail Council of New York State says 14 other states have already established a similar task force, and New York must follow their lead.

“In the meantime, the Retail Council of New York State continues to work with community groups, law enforcement, prosecutors, lawmakers to educate them on the challenges facing small and large stores throughout the capital region in the state. And we look forward to having this bill signed into law ultimately,” O’Connor said.

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins says a more holistic approach is needed.

“The number one thing I hear from residents and business owners and folks who visit this city is that they want to see more officers and some of our so-called hotspots. Well, because of this issue that we’re seeing with this organized retail fraud issue. We’re having to divert resources from some of those areas that sorely need it.” Hawkins said.

Alex Flood, Assemblywoman Fahy’s Communications Director, is a former retail worker.

“We were told not to go after any shoplifters just for the safety of the staff, and, you know, to remove ourselves from any kind of situations. Even with that policy in place, like I had an encounter where I encountered shoplifters, and they dumped actually dumped a smoothie on my head,” Flood said.

Joyce Love represents Albany’s Third Ward on the Common Council. She says theft has contributed to the closure of stores like the neighborhood CVS.

“It’s hitting everybody, it’s hitting the stores that seniors, the people that work in the store, I- my heart goes out when we lose- and we lost the bank at the same time where people can’t even bank in the neighborhood that they live in because you’re having a lot of theft at the bank,” Love said.

Hochul’s office says the Democrat is reviewing the legislation.

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