New Seattle auditor report provides organized retail crime recommendations



(The Center Square) – A new report by Seattle City Auditor David Jones outlines ways for the city to address an increase in retail theft that has resulted in $2.7 billion in losses in the state.

The report consists of recommendations for the city to take, including collaborating with agencies, such as the Washington State Attorney General’s Office’s new Organized Retail Crime Unit; leveraging federal and state crime analysis resources; updating the city’s outdated retail theft program with new technology; use place-based approaches to disrupt unregulated street markets; and in-custody interviews of people who steal on behalf of fencing operations.

Fencing operations can range from simple to complex operations. Low-level fences, or “street fences,” will sell stolen goods directly to the public through unregulated street markets, flea markets, swap meets, or online.

People can also sell stolen merchandise to mid-level fences who run “cleaning operations.” Cleaning operations remove security tags and store labels and repackage stolen goods to make them appear as though they came directly from the manufacturer. This cleaning process may even involve changing the expiration date on perishable goods, which creates public health concerns.

According to the National Retail Federation, Seattle was the eighth most impacted city by organized retail crime in the U.S. in 2021

The city tallied 13,103 calls to the Seattle Police Department from the top 100 retail locations in the city in 2022, with the majority being related to retail theft. According to the auditor’s report, responding to those calls cost police officers 18,615 hours of time, which is equivalent to the annual work performed by nine full-time patrol officers.

The Seattle Police Department indicated that in the first quarter of 2023, it did not receive any theft reports from some large downtown retailers because those businesses have increased their use of security guards and off-duty officers and are choosing not to report organized retail theft to the police.

The audit found that despite the larger downtown retailers declining to report organized retail theft, other retailers in Seattle are unable to afford extra security, and some retailers choose not to use security to avoid the risk of lawsuits from shoppers injured by security guards in the process of apprehending thieves or from the alleged thieves themselves.

The city points to a report from the Washington Retail Association that found that, within the past year, more than half of retailers within the state have reported an increase in theft, resulting in $2.7 billion in losses in the state.

“The auditor listened carefully to the concerns of retailers and addressed them in this report,” Washington Retail Association President Renee Sunde said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the council and mayor to implement the ‘seven steps for improving the city’s approach to [organized retail crime]’ set forth in this report.”

The recommendations will be discussed at the Seattle Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting on July 25.



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