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New York City Retailers Question and Support New Retail Theft Strategy
From 2021 to 2022, New York City shoplifting complaints increased by 44 percent — the largest annual gain to date.
Will it work?
That is one of the questions New York City retailers are asking in response to city officials' plans to combat retail theft. New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials on Wednesday mapped out a strategy that aims to curtail shoplifting, robberies and organized retail theft in the five boroughs.
As mentioned by Adams, CVS, Target and Duane Reade are among the retailers impacted by the crimes. With 65 CVS Pharmacy locations in New York City, including outposts in Target stores, the retailer is among the chains that have had to secure such everyday household item as toothpaste and aspirin under lock and key. A CVS Health spokesperson declined to comment about the city's new plan and its potential effectiveness.
A Target spokesperson deferred comment Thursday to the New York State Retail Council, as did executives at the National Retail Federation. While several retailers praised support for nonviolent offenders suffering from poverty, homelessness or substance abuse, a few business owners noted that some of the proposed safety measures had already been incorporated by stores, including some that had been robbed this year.
The state retail group's president and chief executive officer Melissa O'Connor reiterated a statement from Wednesday. Praising Adams' strategic, comprehensive plan, she said, “On behalf of thousands of stores in New York, we appreciate the initiatives outlined in the report. The retail industry has collaborated with this administration, the New York City Police Department and prosecutors over the past several months to prioritize store and community safety. This partnership will be formalized and strengthened through the New York City Organized Retail Theft Task Force, which will serve as a necessary and effective collaboration between stakeholders to hold organized retail crime syndicates and repeat offenders accountable.”
Thirteen jewelry stores were robbed or stolen from in the first few months of the year. Melissa Joy Manning, who had two robberies in the same Brooklyn store, understands the degree of threats. "Thrilled" as she is that city officials have recognized the issue, their recommendations are based on information that was compiled late last year and does not include "how violent these crimes have gotten since January," she said. The New York-based business owner wishes there was a live update to incorporate the violent robberies that have happened this year, including the two instances at her own boutique where employees were threatened with physical harm.
"It's troubling to read the initiative. It seems to put a lot of onus on us," Manning said. "I appreciate the intention for intervention, prevention and rehabilitation. Those are amazing concepts for the city to embrace. That's really great and forward-thinking. But actually happening in our stores does not seem to be happening in a practical and tangible way. Most of us already have retail watch groups," Manning said, adding that is why she was able to share photos of her perpetrator and get the city to realize the suspect is believed to be a serial robber.
All in all, Manning is left wondering what else city officials can do. "Sadly, I have not even heard an update about what is going on with our cases."
On the upside, she praised plans for advocacy to ensure authentic products in regards to resale procedures. "But I'm left wondering what are my practical and tangible solutions for tomorrow in terms of police and city support, as a retailer who has lost more than $250,000 this year to violent robberies."
Another independent jewelry retailer, Page Sargisson, noted that she heard about the new initiative through the retail text thread she has shared with area Atlantic Avenue stores for months. It is worth noting that such neighborhood watch groups were among the Adams administration's recommendations.
The jewelry designer praised city officials for distinguishing between people who are stealing for food out of necessity versus people who are stealing $1 million worth of jewelry to resell it. That was the case earlier this year at Diamonds by Direct in Queens, where an elderly employee had to be hospitalized after being pistol-whipped by one of the suspects, who was disguised as an Amazon delivery person. The victim's mother and the store's owner Eva Chen did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Sargisson was confused by the prospect of having a silent panic button to alert other stores, since that essentially already exists via text. Her hope is that the support of the mayor and other city agencies will not only raise awareness but help to catch thieves.
The report referenced how 327 repeat offenders were responsible for 30 percent of last year's more than 22,000 retail theft incidents in the five boroughs. But that made her question whether the suspect who was believed to case her store before robbing Manning's store, would be included in those statistics, as well as other suspects. Sargisson also questioned how the perpetrator could not be caught, given the amount of surveillance videos in the city and its subway system. To safeguard her store, Sargisson had installed a security camera at eye level — instead of keeping one overhead — near the entrance to add a potential deterrent to robbers. She has also purchased a portable panic button that can be worn around one's neck that offers direct contact to the local police station.
"I hope this task force and initiative by the mayor give resources so that people like that are caught. I hope it leads to action and is not just a bunch of words and a task force," Sargisson said.
Having recently hired a new employee, Sargisson said it was sad to have to tell them about the recent crime wave and how they have to be ready for various scenarios.
Kelly Carroll, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District, has been working with area retailers and the NYPD to help them safeguard their properties. The neighborhood has experienced seven break-ins and thefts in the past six months excluding Manning's two crimes, which occurred in another area.
“The genesis of all theft is an unmet need, and inflation is real. It's smart of the city to distinguish between thefts people make to make ends meet, versus repeat offenders who steal as their career," Carroll said.
Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans, a men's store on Union Square in New York City, was “disappointed” with the action plan released by the mayor on Wednesday. He was especially critical of the idea of installing kiosks in stores to connect nonviolent offenders with government resources and social services.
“We're now supposed to provide floor space in our stores for informational kiosks for people who are trying to rob us,” he asked. “These diversionary ideas about directing potential perpetrators in another direction seem a little dream-like.”
Giddon, whose store was hit more than once during the height of the pandemic by gangs of thieves, also said that the mayor's plan made “no mention of additional penalties for assaulting retail workers.”
Giddon is the cochair of a Manhattan Small Business Alliance task force that was established by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg that is also taking on the issue of retail theft.
But with the mayor's plan, “there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern about working with the DAs and state legislators about bail reform and discovery reform,” Giddon said. “The bottom line is that 85 percent of misdemeanors in Manhattan are dismissed and most shoplifting threats are misdemeanors.”
He said that since the pandemic, he has been forced to lock his doors and only admit customers manually. “It's a sad state of affairs.”
Karen Murray, owner of the Fivestory luxury women's store on the Upper East Side, said she's also been hit with theft. “When we get close to closing, people come in and grab things and run,” she said. Most of the theft involves handbags, both vintage and new, that cost the store “thousands of dollars.”
As a result, she has had to hire a security guard that is on duty whenever the store is open, and in the future, Murray said, she will also begin locking her doors.
"The Fifth Avenue Association is working with Mayor Adams and his administration on preventing retail theft," Marie Boster, president of the association, told WWD. "We are proud to have one of the most successful and productive relationships with our local NYPD precinct and are grateful that when people come to Fifth Avenue and to 57th Street they feel safe. Our community safety officers and security supervisors are on the street seven days a week and are always proactive in their work and know that it's critical to focus on repeat offenders, as a relatively small number of people are responsible for the majority of retail theft."
In a statement, Macy's said, "The safety of our customers and colleagues is always our top priority and we appreciate Mayor Adams' focus on combatting retail theft. We will continue to support and partner with the Mayor's Office, the NYPD, community organizations, as well as local and state law enforcement agencies to enhance store and public safety."