State retailers, law enforcement comment on ‘smash and grab’ crime wave

Two pedestrians walk near a closed street entrance to a Nordstrom department store at the Grove mall in Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, where a recent smash-and-grab robbery took place. Prosecutors and retailers are pushing back on assertions by California’s governor and attorney general that they have enough tools to combat shoplifting. California Retailers Association president Rachel Michelin says shoplifting has been a growing problem. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

RALEIGH — A wave of organized retail crime, often called “smash and grabs,” has North Carolina retailers and law enforcement on alert.

A coalition of the retailers, along with law enforcement organizations, say the practice will not be tolerated in North Carolina.

“Many retailers struggled to stay in business during COVID and are just now getting back on their feet while trying to navigate labor shortages, supply-chain issues and new COVID-19 variants. It is unfortunate that retailers are having to guard against organized retail crime organizations that target their businesses,” said North Carolina Retail Merchants Association President and General Counsel Andy Ellen. “When these sophisticated criminal organizations steal from retailers it threatens the ability of the retailer to stay in business and provide jobs. It also ultimately ends up in higher prices for law abiding consumers. We appreciate all the law enforcement community does in North Carolina to prevent this criminal activity.”

Throughout the country, brick-and-mortar retailers have experienced a significant increase in organized retail crime targeting their stores, stealing thousands of dollars of goods. The crime often involves smashing windows and display cases and assaulting workers.

The organized crime activity costs retailers an average of $700,000 per $1 billion in sales and three-fourths of retailers saw an increase in organized retail crime in 2020 according to the National Retail Federation’s 2020 Organized Retail Crime Survey.

In North Carolina, a person is guilty of a Class H felony if they conspire with another person to steal more than $1,500 worth of merchandise combined from one or more retail establishments over a 90-day period. The crime is elevated to a Class G felony if a person conspires to steal more than $20,000 of merchandise from one or more retail establishments over a ninety-day period, per state statutes.

“In addition to conducting larceny and breaking and entering operations on a massive scale, organized retail crime rings are often involved in other criminal activity within the community, including drug related crimes, money laundering and human trafficking just to name a few. Our 100 Sheriffs’ offices across the state recognize the seriousness of these crimes and are committed to working with others in law enforcement and district attorneys to put these brazen criminals behind bars,” said New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon, president of the NC Sheriffs’ Association.

News reports and viral videos have shown a startling rise is crime around retailers in states such as California, Illinois, and Connecticut.

In November, a security guard died after he was shot while he protected a San Francisco Bay Area television news crew covering a smash and grab theft in progress.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong announced they have formed a task force charged with combating the growing problem of organized robberies at brick-and-mortar retailers.

“Our district attorneys have strong tools to prosecute members of organized retail crime organizations should they try to carry out “smash and grabs” or flash mob shoplifting activities in North Carolina. Preventing this activity is key to maintaining safe communities and a strong economy. It’s important for prosecutors to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on these smash and grab robberies. As prosecutors, we must stand with our business communities and law enforcement supporting retail merchants and sending a strong message to would-be thieves,” said Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill who serves as president of the NC Conference of District Attorneys.

About Matt Mercer 356 Articles
Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal