Shoplifting has become its own epidemic | In Focus

Here is a local police chief’s thoughts on the issue.

I recently stopped at the Auburn Fred Meyer to shop for groceries. I parked next to an array of fisheye cameras on poles about 10 feet above the parking lot, set on a wheeled trailer. Three small blue lights were flashing at its base. My conclusion was that the parking lot was being surveilled for car prowls or perhaps shoplifters. Inside the store, there was a store employee watching two large computer screens. As I was leaving, I asked him if there was increased crime, noting that all the Lego sets had been placed in locked glass cabinets. He told me yes, crime had increased, but it didn’t matter much because they couldn’t do anything if they caught a shoplifter anyway.

A few days later I was visiting the Bonney Lake Fred Meyer, looking for Lego sets again. To my surprise, the same type of locked glass cabinets had replaced the previously open shelves in the toy department. I had to get an employee to unlock the cabinet so that I could get a Lego set.

A friend sent me an article entitled, “Safeway Shooting Spurs Fears of More Conflicts with Shoplifters” by Julia Prodis Sulek (June 13, 2022, San Jose, California, East Bay Times). It described a Safeway store clerk, Manny Huizar, who chased shoplifters carting out shopping carts full of stolen goods. One day he confronted a shoplifter stealing expensive liquor from the store. The shoplifter shot and killed him.

“It’s this merry-go-round where retailers say, ‘Well, we’re not going to report them because when we have called, the police don’t show up,’” Rachel Michelin, CEO and president of the California Retailers Association, said. “The police don’t show up because they say the district attorneys won’t prosecute. The district attorneys say they don’t prosecute because the police aren’t bringing in the cases. The police say we’re not bringing the cases because the retailers aren’t reporting them.”

The issue of shoplifting is national in scope, not just in Washington.

Here is the Wall Street Journal’s solution to this normalization of shoplifting and an indication that shoplifting is a national epidemic. It needs to be handled by regulating Internet sellers:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s response is to urge Congress to pass the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act. The legislation would require Amazon, Ebay and other online platforms to verify the identity of any seller who makes 200 or more sales valued at a total of $5,000 or more a year. When a seller passes $25,000 in annual sales, the online platform would have to disclose publicly the seller’s name and current contact details.” (The Editorial Board: “America’s Shoplifting Epidemic: Retail theft Seems to Have Been Normalized in Many U.S. Cities”: April 8, 2022)

I called up Bonney Lake Police Chief Bryan Jeter and asked him what he thought about shoplifting in Bonney Lake. He offered me three explanations for the increase in petty crime:

1) The Blake Decision by the State Legislature to decriminalize drug possession,

2) COVID-19 restrictions in local jails that limit the number of people who can be booked due to concerns over the spread of infection, and

3) The change in the pursuit law: Criteria has moved from “reasonable suspicion” to “probable cause” for select violent crimes, where there has to be a strong indication that a crime has been committed, and probable cause for a particular suspect has been established. Police can no longer pursue someone who drives away from them after they attempt to stop them unless probable cause is established for one of the violent crimes under RCW 10.116.060 or impairment is suspected. Enforcing the law has gotten a lot more complicated.

Chief Jeter stated that he believed that stealing liquor and other goods like Legos and then fencing them to pay for their drug habit is the primary cause of the increased shoplifting.

The 2022 State Legislature rolled back HB 1310 which passed in 2021. Under the 2021 law, police were not allowed to physically detain someone if they wished to leave. With the 2022 change of law, they can now be physically detained.

Shoplifting has increased across the nation, especially in progressive states like Washington, California, and New York, where government officials have often seen shoplifters as misunderstood victims rather than as criminals. These new laws and rules came as a result of public anger over racist and discriminatory police practices. The pendulum is now shifting back to a more balanced approach. We must fix systemic police racism, but still enforce the law and not unintentionally encourage crimes like shoplifting.