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Washington state retailers hopeful recent changes in the law will curb theft

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(The Center Square) – Washington retailers are feeling a bit more optimistic about dealing with theft now that lawmakers have passed changes in state and federal law.

This session, the Washington State Legislature passed Initiative 2113 to lessen restrictions on police pursuits. Retailers hope the new measure, which goes into effect in June, will provide some relief for merchants who have spent the last few years watching shopping carts filled with stolen merchandise be walked out of their stores by thieves and driven away.

In 2021, state lawmakers passed legislation that increased the threshold for evidence required for a police pursuit. Last year, lawmakers lowered the threshold for police to pursue a suspect from probable cause to reasonable suspicion for limited crimes.

Nevertheless, the law has been blamed for an increase in crimes, including retail theft.

Renee Sunde, president and CEO of the Washington Retail Association, applauded passage of I-2113, but said it will take some time to recoup losses and major investments in keeping inventory and customers protected.

Many retailers now have experience in honing their response to theft as part of efforts to retain their customer base.

“We’re seeing a lot of new technologies that retailers have had to implement to address these issues, including using artificial intelligence at self-checkout and locking display cases at stores like Walgreens and Target,” she explained.

Members are using license plate recognition technology that has aided in tracking down thieves, Sunde noted.

“None of this is ideal,” she added.

Other laws may be having an impact as well, Sunde said, stressing again that it would take time to see results.

“We had to get the Blake decision fixed where we now finally have laws in place where you can’t openly have drug use,” she said. “That was fueling everything that has hurt retail and crime.”

The “Blake fix” was a 2023 permanent legislative solution to address the criminality of drug possession and use in Washington in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s 2021 State v. Blake decision that ruled the state’s felony drug possession law unconstitutional.

Nationally, Sunde pointed to the implementation of the Inform Act as another step in the right direction.

“It’s a transparency requirement where online marketplaces will identify if they are seeing something that looks suspicious, and selling on those third-party marketplaces, and so that’s been really encouraging,” she said.

Sunde says she and other retailers are especially excited to see the changes going on in Seattle with the prosecutor and the city council.

“The shift that’s going on within the council is nothing short of incredible,” she said. “All five of the new council members say public safety is their top priority, and so I mean we’re beginning to see where communities are saying we need safe places to shop and people need to feel safe.”

According to the 2023 annual National Retail Federation survey, retailers attributed about 36% of “shrink” – inventory losses from causes other than sales – to shoplifting and organized theft, 29% to employee theft and 27% to mistakes in tracking, accounting or other errors. That translates into $112 billion lost by retailers to shrinkage in 2022.

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