Colorado’s ‘shoplifters’ are big-time racketeers
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
It’s no longer about kids stealing candy bars from convenience stores. Remember those days? The store clerk would call the cops, who called mom or dad, and the kid got grounded — lesson learned. Not anymore. As an in-depth — and galling — Gazette news report made clear over the weekend, the explosion in retail theft gripping Colorado is hardly what you could call shoplifting. Its outsized scale, its sheer brazenness and sometimes, even its violence are giveaways that organized crime rings are now behind it. As authorities point out in the story, criminal enterprises are orchestrating the mass theft and resale of wide-ranging, popular goods. Mass retail theft has become almost routine in the metro areas up and down the Front Range. In broad daylight, “customers” shamelessly wheel shopping carts overflowing with merchandise right out the front door to waiting getaway cars, breezing past the check stands. Their booty includes clothes, tools, detergent, bulk foods — you name it. Retail staff is typically forced to stand by helplessly, barred by management from intervening for safety’s sake. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has even created a statewide retail theft task force to curb the online sale of stolen goods by organized crime. “Organized retail crime harms businesses, employees, and communities,” Weiser declared in a news statement. The cost is epic, not only to the big retailers that suffer the losses but also to the law-abiding consumers who wind up covering those losses through higher prices. Chris Howes, who represents the Colorado Retail Council, told Gazette reporters the problem has gotten so bad some of the more flagrant incidents could be prosecutable under Colorado’s Organized Crime Control Act. “Unfortunately, it’s getting worse than ever. It’s more violent than ever. We estimate that it’s costing (Colorado) retailers up to a billion dollars a year in lost product,” he said. “Which is shocking, but not if you understand that national estimate is somewhere between $75 billion and $100 billion.” Remember that the next time you experience sticker shock at a big-box retailer, a mom ’n’ pop hardware shop or your local grocer. You, too, are being victimized by the racketeers who now run retail theft. And then there’s the violent collateral damage from the theft operations. Like the thief who walked out of a store in Parker pushing a loaded shopping cart, then sped off and fatally struck a pedestrian. There’s no question by this point — amid a years-long crime wave in our state — that the Legislature’s “justice reform” agenda has played a key role in fostering the retail-crime spree. That was inevitable. Slashing penalties for assorted crimes, decriminalizing drugs and making it harder to jail dangerous criminal suspects with lengthy records almost assures those in the retail-theft trade a slap on the wrist at worst if they are caught. Commendably, Colorado’s third-largest city, Aurora, has attempted a crackdown of its own and has set an example. The Aurora City Council approved an ordinance requiring minimum jail sentences of three days for people convicted of stealing $300 or more worth of retail goods. It’s a start, and it sends a message. But far-reaching change has to come from the Capitol. So-called shoplifters who in fact are proven to be players in major crime rings should have to do serious jail time. If they’re forced to cool their heels behind bars, shopping assuredly will be safer. And maybe cheaper.