Retailers and grocers fear increase in thefts with new police law


With business advocates focusing on the link between public safety and the local economy, retailers and grocers warn that a new statewide police reform law passed in this year’s legislative session will unintentionally lead to an increase in theft and shoplifting.

One of the provisions of HB 1310 is that police officers are prohibited from arresting suspects unless they have “probable cause” that a crime has been committed. Washington Retail Association senior vice president for policy and government affairs Mark Johnson told Lens the law would encourage more criminal activity because “criminals realize they can steal, and they are not physically observed by a police officer in the act, it is just the word of an employee or a customer against theirs. They will continue to get more and more brazen and steal more.

Even though the new law went into effect just a few weeks ago, Johnson said members of the association have already suffered an increase in thefts, especially in King County, which have also become more serious. “Not only is the number of thefts occurring on the increase, but the violent nature of them is also increasing. People are becoming more and more brazen and violent.

In addition to businesses and workers facing an increased risk of violent crime, he added that customers are also suffering. “The more products that come out, the more prices go up. The company has to make up the loss somewhere.

For neighborhoods, the cost of local or state public safety policies can manifest in empty storefronts as businesses close. Two years ago, Bartell’s announced the closure of its downtown store due to regulation and crime. In 2014, California approved Proposition 47, which classified non-violent theft of items valued under $ 950 as misdemeanors. Since then, Walgreens has closed 17 stores due to an organized robbery in San Francisco, where theft prosecutions fell since the entry into office of the public prosecutor Chesa Boudin in 2020.

In Bellevue, city council voted in December to increase police funding following the May 2020 riots in the city center that included organized robberies from retail businesses, while a follow-up protest in the downtown area. city ​​in October remained peaceful.

Grocers are particularly vulnerable to the increase in thefts due to their low profit margins – typically around one percent. Tammie Hetrick, CEO and president of the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA), told Lens that for many members, paying for loss prevention can cost as much as a store makes a profit.

“Our store owners lose as much as they gain,” she said. “That’s how sad it is for them. They lose a lot. So it really adds up. Walgreens (store closures) is a perfect example of what can happen if we don’t have the support we need. It just doesn’t make financial sense to continue.

She added that it doesn’t help that shoplifting and thefts are a lower priority for police compared to more serious crimes. “The police are so overworked with everything they do. If we try to intrude on someone who we know is a known thief, it is difficult for them to get out.

At this point, Hetrick said it was too early to know what the full effects of HB 1310 would be on grocery store thefts. At the same time, businesses that suffer from an increase in theft are handicapped in their ability to raise awareness of the situation. Johnson and Hetrick both said members were reluctant to talk about the increase in thefts over fears their locations would develop a reputation for being unsafe, which will only worsen their financial losses.

“We want people to have a safe environment,” Hetrick said. “We want them to know when they go to the grocery store that it will be a safe environment for them. “

For now, Hetrick has said they are focused on fixing the problem in Seattle, where thefts and shoplifting are long-term issues. “It’s been like this for some time. This is why we have really worked to find solutions to know how to be proactive. We’re trying to work there to find these different resources, because a big concern is the violent side of that. We want to protect employees and customers. It is even more important than the loss itself.

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