Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that the smash-and-grab crime wave is a hoax drew howls from fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as retailers and police refuted the claim by detailing the huge impact of organized theft.
So far, the criticism of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has come exclusively from Republicans and retailers.
Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, called the New York Democrats’ remarks “tone-deaf and offensive” to the family of the Oakland security guard who was shot and killed in San Francisco last week. He was protecting a TV news crew covering a smash-and-grab theft in the area.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), a trade association representing leading retailers, also took issue with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez‘s assertion.
“Respectfully, the Congresswoman has no idea what she is talking about. Both the data and stack of video evidence makes fairly clear that this is a growing problem in need of solutions,” Jason Brewer, RILA senior executive vice president of communications said in an email. “If she is not concerned with organized theft and increasingly violent attacks on retail employees, she should just say that.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview this week with The Washington Times that “a lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out.”
She continued: “I believe it’s a Walgreens in California cited it, but the data didn’t back it up.”
She made the claim despite scores of videos documenting the rash of attacks by rampaging thieves and reports from big box stores across the country about an uptick of organized retail theft and violent attacks on employees.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not respond to a request for her to elaborate on her remarks.
“I don’t know what data she is talking about,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican. “But you don’t really need much data from someplace in San Francisco or California. All you need to do is walk down the street to the CVS in Eastern Market,” he said, referring to a public market about 1 mile from the U.S. Capitol. “I’ve seen on multiple occasions when I’ve been in there buying things, someone will come in and raid a shelf and walk out.”
Walgreens said in a statement to The Times that “organized retail crime is one of the top challenges facing” the company and that the issue “has evolved beyond shoplifting and petty theft to the sale of stolen and counterfeit goods online.”
The retail theft in Walgreens’ San Francisco stores has continued to increase to five times the chain average in the past few months. As a result, the company increased security spending in the city to 46 times what’s at the average Walgreens location, the company said.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore on Thursday described for reporters how the spike in organized retail theft began in early November in cities such as Chicago, New York and the Bay area of California and then eventually spread to his city.
These crimes, he said, are characterized by multiple suspects working together and coordinating instances involving the destruction of property and assaults on store employees with waiting caravans of vehicles parked close to high-end retail stores.
“From Nov. 18 to the 28, the city of Los Angeles had 11 of those types of crimes involving similar M.O.’s where groups of suspects working in tandem, worked to steal from high-end clothing stores, often using weapons and physical force to overwhelm and intimidate store employees and other patrons,” Chief Moore said.
Among the 11 instances, the 14 suspects “taken into custody are out of custody, either as a result of one juvenile, or the others as a result of bailing out or zero-bail criteria,” he said.
According to the National Retail Federation, the financial impact of organized retail crime is significant. Organized retail crime costs retailers an average of $719,548 per $1 billion in sales.
This is the fifth year in a row the figure has topped $700,000 and it increased significantly from $453,940 in 2015.
Retailers believe the increase in organized retail crime-related incidents may be a result of changing laws and penalties for shoplifting, according to an NRF’s 2020 Organized Retail Crime (ORC) survey,
Three in four victims of organized retail crime said they’ve seen an increase in these crimes over the past 12 months and more than six in 10 said they want a federal law to combat the crime scourge.
“Many states have increased the threshold of what constitutes a felony, which has had the unintended consequence of allowing criminals to steal more without being afraid of stronger penalties related to felony charges,” the NRF said in the report.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the smash-and-grab thefts are not isolated incidents committed by low-level offenders.
“These brazen, violent crimes are committed by sophisticated criminal organizations that are involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and other serious crimes,” he said as the smash-and-grab wave began to build in September. “Even during the looting we saw last year, we came to understand that some of these criminal acts were not merely opportunistic, but organized in advance.”
Rep. Darrell Issa said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez‘s “credibility continues to fall.”
“It’s important that people use appropriate words when something is clearly happening,” said Mr. Issa, California Republican. “Law enforcement may have to say ‘alleged’ because no one has been convicted, but I think people who know better, should use more appropriate words. But she’s not known for appropriate words.”
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