Tomorrow the House Committee on Public Safety is scheduled to hear House Bill 1656, adding concealment to the definition of theft. The bill is prime sponsored by Rep. Dan Griffey (R-35-Allyn). Chairing the committee hearing is Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45-Kirkland). WR plans to offer testimony in support of this important measure.
Washington state is one of a handful of states that does not currently have “concealment” as part of the definition of theft. HB 1656 adds this to the definition. What does this mean? Concealment is when a criminal is hiding or concealing goods or products either on their person or in a device like a backpack or a handbag. Under current law, a thief cannot be charged with a crime until they leave the premises. By that time, the chase is on. There is a risk of injury to the store employee, a customer, or even the thief themselves when there is a chase. Being able to apprehend and charge a criminal in the store will help alleviate and deescalate some safety concerns.
Examples of criminals wearing long trench coats with extra pockets built-in and others with oversized handbags specifically with the intent to steal are all too common. Often, they are members of an organized retail crime ring, many given “shopping” lists of items to steal, which are then transported to the ringleaders’ location to be fenced, frequently online.
Keep in mind that this change in the definition will not lead to honest, law-abiding shoppers being arrested for putting a few items in their pockets or purses. Merchants will have to prove that the suspect intended to steal the items – which is a high bar to meet in court. This addition to the law will only impact the most egregious examples of concealment.
Retailers, police, and prosecutors could use this tool to help fight the surge in retail theft, now estimated at over $2.7 billion in Washington, 2nd in the nation, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association.
WR encourages members of the legislature to support HB 1656.