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Commentary by Dave Argall originally published by RealClearPennsylvania and RealClearWire
Retailers across the nation are under siege, with some struggling to stay afloat amid a rising tide of crime.
Many of us take for granted the ease with which we can walk into a store and buy the simple items we need to go about our daily lives – a toothbrush, a t-shirt, or a favorite snack. Yet in Philadelphia and other cities, it’s getting more and more difficult for retailers to operate.
The massive looting in Philadelphia last year was difficult to imagine. Small and large businesses throughout the city were ransacked and heavily damaged by mobs of organized thieves who rampaged through stores
The stores targeted include Apple, Lululemon, Foot Locker, and almost 20 liquor stores. As then-interim Police Commissioner John Stanford said, these were “criminal opportunists” looking to pad their pockets with stolen goods.
Dozens of people were charged in the aftermath of this crime spree. Yet they felt empowered to rampage through Pennsylvania’s largest city, unafraid of the consequences of their criminal actions.
The difficulties facing retailers, however, are not just restricted to massive crime sprees. A recent report by 6abc featured an interview with Vincent Emmanuel, a 7/11 owner in Philadelphia who reported that people steal items from his store every day. They walk in, take whatever they want, and walk right out.
Small business owners should not be responsible for dealing with this brazen criminal behavior.
The effect of this crime has been chilling. In Philadelphia, some stores have been driven to close their doors. Two Wawa locations were forced out of operation due to rampant theft. Others reduced their hours at night to protect the safety of their employees.
Many stores are also forced to increasingly lock up items that are frequently targeted by thieves, forcing well-intentioned shoppers to request assistance from staff to access simple necessities.
On a wider scale, many large retailers have warned of the need to close stores. Among them are Giant Food, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, and many more. Executives for these companies have warned of increasing threats to employee safety, as well as concerns about profitability.
The effects of retail theft on the United States as a whole are massive. According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, retail theft in 2021 led to over $125 billion in economic losses and the loss of almost 700,000 jobs. That’s a huge burden for our economy to bear.
The same study also showed the average theft rose from $937 to $1180 from 2020 to 2021. That’s over 25% in just one year.
Pennsylvania, in particular, has been hit especially hard. A recent study by Forbes noted that our state is the 5th most impacted by retail theft. The same study determined that in 2021, approximately $430 in goods was stolen per resident – the highest total in the nation.
To combat this rising crime, I introduced Senate Bill 596. My bill was approved by strong bipartisan votes of 45-5 in the Senate and 179-24 in the House of Representatives and has now been signed into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro as Act 42 of 2023.
This new law makes it easier for perpetrators of organized retail theft to be charged with a felony. The monetary thresholds for being charged with a second- and third-degree felony were cut in half. A new first-degree felony offense was also created.
Act 42 also created a new deputy Attorney General that will specifically focus on prosecuting perpetrators of organized retail theft. We’re not focusing on a mom who steals baby formula to feed her children. Instead, this new law will assist law enforcement to go after the top criminals, leaders of organized crime rings that resell goods on online marketplaces.
Criminals need to know that if they commit these crimes, there will be consequences.
And the 7/11 owner mentioned above? He’s so desperate for help that he said this new law was “the best news I’ve heard in 43 years of operating this business.” I hope this is just the beginning of a concerted effort to restore law and order to our communities.
Sen. Dave Argall represents the 29th Senate District, covering all of Schuylkill and Carbon Counties and parts of Luzerne County.
This article was originally published by RealClearPennsylvania and made available via RealClearWire.