From left: Carl Kleinknecht, Director of Security, Kemper Development, Shannon Vetto, CEO, Evergreen Market, Ben Carr, Assistant Attorney General, Tony Romero, Bellevue Police Department, Robert Nelson, President, Washington Organized Retail Crime Association, and Sarah Cherin, Executive VP, UFCW 3000.
In June of 2022, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the launch of a new Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Task Force dedicated to sharing information and coordinating efforts among state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, retailers, policymakers, and multiple government agencies. In the months since, the AG and his team have been busily working on state, national, and international ORC cases, coordinating with law enforcement agencies on every level.
The Task Force convened at the AG’s downtown Tacoma offices yesterday, March 29, for its third meeting. The first portion of the three-hour meeting focused on the issues impacting the cannabis retail industry.
Panel member Sarah Cherin, Executive VP for UFCW 3000, read several quotes from her retail cannabis union workers. The common sentiment centered on workers feeling unsafe and the emotional distress experienced by those who experienced armed robberies and violence. “The most important thing inside the stores are the workers,” Cherin noted.
According to panel members, the cannabis retail industry has experienced a steady increase in violence in its stores since Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana nine years ago. Shannon Vetto, CEO of Evergreen Market stores, clarified that the violence has escalated in the past 18 months, and a new theft trend has emerged. “We are now primarily seeing cash grabs rather than cannabis thefts,” Vetto said.
At the ORC Task Force press conference last year, WR President and CEO, Renée Sunde said, “There has never been a more critical time in Washington State to address the impacts of Organized Retail Crime on public safety and the safety of our customers and retail employees. Many of our frontline retail workers have witnessed these outrageous crimes in action and have faced physical threats.” Her words still ring true.
As the legislative session is in its final weeks, WR has continued advocating for fully funding the Attorney General’s ORC Task Force. The $3 million appropriation the AG has requested would support his efforts by hiring the staff necessary to deter and prosecute major ORC rings.