A Comprehensive Approach
Michigan has enacted one of the most comprehensive organized retail crime laws in the country and backers hope it will get thieves on the run. The Organized Retail Crime Act, enacted by Gov. Rick Snyder last December, makes ORC a felony and attaches a five-year prison sentence to organized shoplifting.
“You can see where Michigan’s law is the product of a lot of research and I applaud them,” says Rich Mellor, NRF’s vice president of loss prevention. “My guess is that thieves are gravitating toward states that do not have strong ORC laws on the books.”
The law, supported by the Michigan Retailers Association, places a very strict and narrow definition on ORC: Theft of merchandise with the intent or purpose of reselling, distributing or transferring stolen retail merchandise to another retail merchant or any other person personally, through the mail or through any electronic medium, including the Internet, in exchange for anything of value.
Mellor emphasizes that there are several main covenants of the Michigan law, all of which are in sync with knowingly committing theft, organizing, supervising or financing an enterprise, removing anti-shoplifting devices, conspiring with others to commit ORC, receiving or purchasing merchandise that’s stolen as part of the act, using a device to facilitate commission of the crime, knowingly deactivating or preventing fire exit alarms from sounding, and communicating over wireless devices to arrange sale of stolen merchandise.
Searching for specificity
Previously, retail fraud or shoplifting was considered a misdemeanor unless the value of the property was $1,000 or more. Under the Michigan statute, shoplifters will be charged with a felony regardless of the value of their take. The first person sentenced in Kent County, Mich., under the new law was a homeless woman who stole clothing from Kohl’s with the intention of selling them to friends. She was sentenced to four months in the Kent County jail. Her accomplice, who received the merchandise, was convicted of regular retail fraud.
For Mellor, Michigan’s law, which was followed by similar legislation in Florida, is a natural progression of ORC legislation. “There are 26 states that have some sort of identification with particular enactments of ORC and some have split terminology,” he says. “Some call it shoplifting/organized retail crime while others are specific and only say ORC. Those who combine the two are trying to get some specificity into the law.”
Some states have chosen to deal with other issues separately — actions “associated with shoplifting like removing electronic tags or trying to disable electronic systems or coming into the store with foil-lined bags to negate electronic control of merchandise,” Mellor says. “Some states went after these things to either make it an additional charge or make it a more severe crime.”
Additionally, “Some thieves are using fire exits to escape or come in with tools to deactivate the fire exit alarms in order to get an easy way out of the store. Many states have put this into their laws,” Mellor says.
Disabling alarms isn’t an automatic felony, he adds, noting that states all have different classes of misdemeanors and felonies. “Not many states have made [ORC] a Class 1 felony. But I think Michigan learned from looking at and analyzing laws from other states and came up with a really comprehensive approach.”
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