A stolen handbag with a GPS tracking device sewn into its lining, a confidential informant and three years of surveillance — it’s not a spy drama, but rather the kind of total effort it can take to bring a single organized retail crime group to justice. As the scale and scope of organized retail crime has grown in recent years, better tools and more cooperation between all levels of law enforcement are needed to fight back.
Organized retail crime garnered congressional attention at a Dec. 12 hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement and Intelligence, “From Festive Cheer to Retail Fear: Addressing Organized Retail Crime.”
Learn more about organized retail crime in the retail industry and how to combat the issue.
“It has been said that organized retail crime is overblown,” Committee Chairman August Pfluger said during his opening comments. “That is false. We cannot remain oblivious to the surge in organized retail crime throughout the country impacting every one of our districts.”
Pfluger’s statement encapsulates the issue at hand: ORC is a very real, indiscriminate issue, but squabbling over its existence perpetuates the problem. NRF surveyed 232 retail asset protection professionals at our annual PROTECT conference in Texas, and 90% reported that ORC poses a greater risk to business now than it did three years ago.
During the hearing, two panels comprised of federal agents, asset protection professionals (including NRF) and a district attorney provided further testimony to the insidious nature and negative impact of ORC on businesses, workers, consumers and communities.
Michael Krol, special agent in charge at the New England Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, spoke to the department’s efforts to curtail ORC, including ongoing efforts under Operation Boiling Point. Krol said the National Lead Development Center, which coordinates ORC investigations with HSI field offices, received 222 requests for investigation from local law enforcement and the private sector in fiscal year 2023.
These are not victimless crimes. The health and safety of retail employees and customers, the consumer shopping experience, and businesses’ ability to serve their communities are threatened. NRF’s 2023 National Retail Security Survey found that 67% of retailers said they’ve seen more violence and aggression from shoplifters compared with the previous year. Another poll from NRF found that a majority of consumers believe retail-related crimes have increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retail crime is also more complex than simple shoplifting. Testimony from Scott Glenn, vice president of asset protection for The Home Depot, echoed what the entire industry has been saying: ORC is not a myth or an exaggeration, and it is not merely “petty theft.” ORC is directed by large-scale, multijurisdictional groups.
David Johnston, NRF’s vice president of asset protection and retail operations, summed up the need for federal support in his remarks at the hearing. “We need government at every level to take actions that curtail the ability and opportunity for these criminal organizations to profit from stolen merchandise,” Johnston said, “and to send the signal that this type of criminal activity will no longer be tolerated.”
Retailers are spending billions of dollars to protect their employees and customers, but ORC cannot be solved by individual stores at a local level.
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“In the past, the lack of coordination and information-sharing among retailers, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders hindered the ability to combat organized retail theft effectively,” said Summer Stephan, president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association. “A continued collaborative and multi-faceted approach is necessary to address this issue comprehensively.”
Tackling organized retail crime is a multi-step process, and Congress took the first step last year with passage of the INFORM Act. All the witnesses at the hearing urged Congress to take the next step and pass the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act, which will enable retailers to share information and resources nationally. Over 100 members of Congress now support CORCA, with over 20 joining since NRF’s Fight Retail Crime Day on Oct. 26. It’s time for Congress to pass this bipartisan bill.