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New York lawmakers push for tougher shoplifting laws

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(The Center Square) — New York lawmakers are pushing for tougher penalties for petty theft amid a rise in shoplifting, costing retailers millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

One proposal, filed by state Sen. Jacob Ashby, R-East Greenbush, would increase criminal penalties for repeat shoplifters convicted of petit larceny or theft of smaller items.

Under the bill, anyone arrested for shoplifting twice or more in a three-month period, or with three or more shoplifting convictions in a year, would face an additional fourth-degree grand larceny charge, including hefty fines in the possibility of jail time.

“Shoplifting and other acts of petit larceny are ongoing issues that plague store owners and ultimately hurts the NYS economy. Many stores are faced everyday with shoplifters,” Ashby wrote in a summary of the legislation. “This bill will help store owners protect their livelihood and create a safer environment for residents.”

With New York’s legislative session wrapped up for the year, the proposal would have to be taken up in the next session, which gets underway in January. But the early bill filing is meant to draw attention to the issue of theft, which retailers say is costing them billions of dollars nationwide.

New York City retailers have been struggling with a rise in shoplifting, with complaints increasing by 44% between 2021 and 2022, according to the retailers association, which is the largest annual gain.

In May, Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a plan to crack down on retail theft in the city by improving how stores report shoplifting to police, creating a neighborhood retail watch program and a specialized task force to respond to shoplifting incidents.

“Shoplifters and organized crime rings prey on businesses that have already taken a hit due to COVID-19,” Adams said in remarks at the time. “But with this comprehensive plan we’re going to beat back on retail theft through a combination of law enforcement, prevention, and intervention.”

The situation is similar elsewhere, with law enforcement agencies and business groups nationwide reporting that organized retail crime is ramping up.

New York is among the several states, including Connecticut, California and Illinois, which are creating task forces to address the problem of ‘smash-and-grab’ and large-scale theft incidents. Lawmakers sent a proposal to Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this year to set up the retail theft panel.

For retailers, shoplifting and organized retail crime are primary sources of “shrink,” averaging 1.4% of all sales for several years and reaching $94.5 billion in 2021 — up from $90.8 billion from 2020 — according to the National Retail Federation’s latest report.

The report, which listed New York City as a “hotspot” for organized retail crime, said eight and 10 retailers reported increasing violence and aggression among thieves.

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