- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Democrats on Capitol Hill are flummoxed by the waves of smash-and-grab retail thefts in their states, with some denying it’s happening and others saying they are not ready to make major shoplifting a felony.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, said retailers could be fabricating the rash of smash-and-grab burglaries and “flash mob” shoplifting sprees.

“We have to talk about specifics because, for example, we’re actually seeing a lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out,” she told The Washington Times. “I believe it’s a Walgreens in California cited it, but the data didn’t back it up.”

Organized crime theft slammed big-box retail stores including Apple, Nordstrom and Home Depot in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and other cities, according to police reports.

The numbers spiked with the onset of the holiday shopping season. Brazen organized burglaries were reported across the U.S. on Black Friday and again Saturday.

TV news crews have caught smash-and-grab thefts on video.

With the emergence of organized “flash mobs” that storm chain stores and flee with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise to resell, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry and other executives say the thefts threaten their businesses’ bottom lines.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said law enforcement should focus on the resellers of stolen goods, not the thieves on the front lines. 

“I’m not going to categorically say shoplifters or people who steal in the store be convicted of felonies,” he said in an interview. “I’m not ready to say that. I don’t think that’s fair.”

He explained, “It isn’t just the person who’s sweeping the goods off the shelf into a bag. It’s what that person does with that bag next.”

He suggested pursuing people hocking stolen merchandise on internet marketplaces. “Many times, the sellers on the internet refuse to disclose the names of the actual sellers that they received the goods from,” he said.

Since the summer of 2020, organized retail theft has accounted for a confounding $45 billion in losses within Illinois, ABC 7 Chicago News reported. 

Mr. Durbin and Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, reintroduced the INFORM Consumers Act this year. It would mandate that third-party sellers be verified and disclose their identities and addresses to shoppers. The bill was introduced last year, but the Senate never voted on it.

Mr. Durbin said cracking down on the illicit sellers would deter the smash-and-grabbers.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, called the smash-and-grab phenomenon “really scary” and said someone should get tough on crime.

“I don’t know what we can do as far as the Senate, but it is an area that I agree with those who said, ‘You need real tough law enforcement here,’” he said. “You’ve got to make an example, and you have to have really strong accountability. So we need to capture, we need to track and capture those who are doing it and have very visible trials and punishment.”

In California, Republican state lawmakers have called for the repeal of legislation that they say is too soft on criminals. This includes Proposition 47, state legislation that changed specific low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who served as mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988, suggested that reduced penalties might be a problem.

“It’s becoming more and more apparent that a lot of advantage is being taken with human behavior in the state. It’s criminal,” she said. “I think people are well aware of it and the legislature is well aware of it. And I would think that there may be some toughening of law.”

Crime is expected to be a top issue in the midterm elections next year, and Republicans are running on their traditional law-and-order platform.

Former President Donald Trump, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, said Tuesday that Democrats must stop the widespread theft and urged cities to call in the National Guard to help stem the crime wave.

“There has never been such a thing that has happened in our Country. Large numbers of stores are leaving San Francisco and other cities. Some chains are closing most of their stores. It is all not even believable,” he said.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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