Washington Retail recently spoke at the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce Retail and Hospitality Summit in Ellensburg. Mark Johnson, WR Senior VP of Policy and Government Affairs, highlighted the need to increase public safety and crack down on retail theft and organized retail crime.
The top issue facing Washington retailers continues to be public safety. Employees and customers need to feel safe and be safe when they go to work or shop in our establishments. However, public safety is in jeopardy with the rise in retail theft and organized retail crime.
Last year according to the National Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), merchants across the country lost over $100 billion due to theft. That equates to $2.7 billion in Washington state alone. Not only is there product loss, but our state and local governments lost nearly $300 million in sales and business taxes, forcing customers to endure higher prices and scarcities of products.
The financial effects of these crimes pale in importance compared to keeping the public safe. Retail thieves have become increasingly aggressive and violent. Employees and customers have been pepper sprayed, assaulted with bear spray, knocked over, threatened with weapons, and verbally attacked regularly.
Thankfully our elected officials are taking notice and responding from our nation’s capital down to the local level. The federal online transparency act, known as the INFORM Act, goes into effect on June 27. This law will make it less appealing for thieves to sell their stolen and counterfeit goods online in the darkness of the web. Congress has also just introduced impactful legislation to help take down organized retail crime rings.
On a state level, the legislature approved $2.265 million to bolster the organized retail crime task force under the office of the Attorney General. This funding is available starting July 1. The funds are expected to support prosecutors, investigators, and a data analyst to piece together and support charges against these large, sophisticated criminal operations.
To effectively address this community-wide problem, we must once again allow the police to chase criminals. Our legislature failed to restore the ability of police to chase after property crime suspects – even during active car thefts. WR and a large coalition will be pushing for expansion of the police pursuit laws come January 2024 when the legislature convenes.
WR will present at the Burien Business Association public safety meeting from 10:00 am to noon today at the Burien Toyota. Educating the public and our elected officials on how important it is to address retail theft, organized retail crime, and public safety is critical.