By Thomas Logan, City Journal
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.