The decriminalization of retail theft in cities across the country has taken place amid a long-term nationwide increase in shoplifting. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce now is calling for help from the federal government, but a more efficient way to protect businesses exists—if prosecutors and officials will follow it.
Officials in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia have either explicitly told police not to arrest people for shoplifting or have systematically declined to prosecute the charges. Progressive politicians have assured the public that shoplifting is not on the rise, but high-profile videos—a man on a bike in California pedaling out of a drug store with a bag full of stolen loot, organized crews in New York targeting upscale stores—suggest criminals have gotten the message that they can steal with impunity.
Statistics corroborate these accounts. The National Retail Federation, which represents large national chains, reported that 75 percent of its members have experienced increased retail thefts recently. Shoplifting is costing these stores an average of $719,548 per $1 billion in sales. Small shops, from mom-and-pops to neighborhood bodegas, have been hit even harder. A survey from business.org found that daily shoplifting nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, and that almost 90 percent of stores have experienced some shoplifting, with clothing and electronics among the most popular items stolen and almost one-quarter of stores experiencing shoplifting daily.
Some small-business owners are raising prices to compensate for their losses. Some larger stores are spending on private security. CVS is closing 900 stores across the country. When visiting urban areas, it’s hard to miss the boarded storefronts and “For Lease” signs in once-thriving commercial districts.
Finally, the business community—which has, at times, adopted a reformist position on criminal justice—is beginning to defend itself. On March 29, the Chamber of Commerce sent a plainly worded letter to Congress, the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National District Attorneys Association. Noting the toll that retail theft takes on businesses, the Chamber requested that Congress enact federal legislation to deter shoplifting and the resale of stolen goods, encouraged stiffer penalties for retail theft, and demanded that shoplifters be held criminally responsible.
The Chamber merits praise for calling out what is happening to its members—but its plea is misdirected. It’s not Congress, or federal prosecutors’ offices—designed to handle major crimes, such as terrorism, corruption, and drug cartels—but local prosecutors to whom the Chamber should be appealing. Local prosecutors have the authority and capacity to address retail theft. Unfortunately, the local progressive prosecutors who refuse to enforce shoplifting laws are not members of the National District Attorneys Association, which generally includes traditionally minded prosecutors. Instead, the progressive prosecutors have huddled together in their own echo chambers, such as the organization Fair and Just Prosecutions.
If the business community wants to see the law enforced and criminals held to account, it should put its money where its mouth is. George Soros made a series of effective investments that helped get progressive prosecutors elected in big cities—George Gascón in Los Angeles, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Kim Foxx in Chicago. If American businesses want protection, they should donate money to promoting law-enforcing prosecutors. It’d be a good investment for their bottom line—and a first step in restoring order and justice to U.S. cities.
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