Democrats on Capitol Hill are flummoxed by the wave of smash-and-grab retail theft in their states, with some denying it’s happening and others saying they are not ready to make major-league shoplifting a felony.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, said retailers could be fabricating the rash of smash-and-grab robberies and “flash mob” shoplifting sprees.
“We have to talk about specifics, because, for example, we’re actually seeing a lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out,” she told The Washington Times. “I believe it’s a Walgreens in California cited it, but the data didn’t back it up.”
Organized crime theft slammed big box retail stores, including Apple, Nordstrom and Home Depot in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis, according to police reports.
It spiked with the onset of the holiday shopping season with reports of brazen organized robberies across the U.S. on Black Friday and again Saturday.
The robberies have also been caught on video by TV news crews.
With the emergence of organized “flash mobs” that storm chain stores and flee with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise to re-sell, business executives like Best Buy CEO Corie Barry say the thefts threaten the company’s bottom line.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said law enforcement should be focused on the re-sellers of the stolen goods, not the thieves and robbers on the frontlines.
“I’m not going to categorically say shoplifters or people who steal in the store be convicted of felonies,” he said in an interview. “I’m not ready to say that. I don’t think that’s fair.”
He explained, “It isn’t just the person who’s sweeping the goods off the shelf into a bag. It’s what that person does with that bag next.”
He suggested going after people hocking stolen merchandise on internet marketplaces. “Many times the sellers on the internet refuse to disclose the names of the actual sellers that they received the goods from,” he said.
Since the summer of 2020, organized retail theft accounts for a confounding $45 billion in losses within Illinois, ABC 7 Chicago News reported.
Mr. Durbin and Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, re-introduced the INFORM Consumers Act earlier this year. It would mandate that third-party sellers be verified and disclose their identity and address to shoppers. The bill was initially introduced last year but was never voted on.
Mr. Durbin said cracking down on the illicit sellers would be a deterrent to the smash-and-grabbers.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, called the smash-and-grab phenomena “really scary” and said that someone should get tough on crime.
“I don’t know what we can do as far as the Senate, but it is an area that I agree with those who said, ‘You need real tough law enforcement here,’” he said. “You’ve got to make an example and you have to have really strong accountability. So we need to capture, we need to track and capture those who are doing it and have very visible trials and punishment.”
In California, Republican state lawmakers called for the repeal of legislation that they say is too soft on criminals. This includes Proposition 47, state legislation that changed specific low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who served as mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988, said there might be something to that.
“It’s becoming more and more apparent that a lot of advantage is being taken with human behavior in the state. It’s criminal,” she said. “I think people are well aware of it and the legislature is well aware of it. And I would think that there may be some toughening of law.”
Crime is expected to be a top issue in the midterm elections next year, with Republicans running on their traditional law-and-order platform.
Former President Donald Trump, the de facto leader of the GOP, weighed in on the issue Tuesday. He warned that Democrats must immediately find a way to stop the widespread theft taking place in their cities, urging them to call in the National Guard to help stem the crime wave.
He said, “There has never been such a thing that has happened in our Country. Large numbers of stores are leaving San Francisco and other cities. Some chains are closing most of their stores. It is all not even believable.”
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