A flash mob robbery in Philadelphia
Shoplifters get away with it. That's the message from downtown shopping districts and malls where police are loathe to respond to shoplifting alerts and, store managers say, resent the time it takes to make out reports once the crimes are over. Stores need the police reports in order to collect from insurers. The insurance companies, in turn, pass the costs on the store chains and the chains pass the bill to....guess who? You and me, of course.
The latest wrinkle in shoplifting is the group theft--a variation on the "flash mob" that can be any group activity in public. In the case of the group theft, a team of thieves--amateur or pro--descend on a convenience store or other outlet where only a few employees are on hand. Some 50 thieves showed up a Maryland store recently, but the smaller operations are happening daily all over the country.
I have talked with the store manager at a Walgreens drug store who tries to catch the thieves in the act. If he succeeds he takes back the stolen merchandise and tells the thief not to come into the store again. That's it; that's the end of it. Until the thief reappears, reoffends and gets the same lax response. The reason, explains the store manager, is that the corporation does not want to deal with long drawn out court cases and is afraid, in addition, of counter-suits for supposed harassment or discrimination. As in so many areas of law these days, it is cheaper to put up with crime than to suffer high legal charges.
At a large mall, also in the Seattle area, the manager of a women's apparel store dreads the repeated attacks of groups of mature young women who surge into the store and take large quantities of goods, often several of each kind, stuffed openly into shopping bags as the understaffed clerk team try to restrain them. Security guards are not around, and police are not eager to hear about the whole thing. Again, the corporation has a no-questions-asked return policy that allows the thieves to take the goods from one store and return them for cash or gift cards (to be fenced at a discount elsewhere) at another store in the same chain. And again, the store mostly doesn't want any trouble, so prosecutions don't take place. Imagine: a woman walks into a store to "return" a half dozen expensive garments. She has no receipts. No problem. She gets cash or gift cards and goes on her way, until she does it again.
Guess what? As the word gets out, shoplifting is sure to become even more of a growth industry in urban America. Mayor Giuliani of New York solved such low-level crime problems by firm enforcement, because studies show that unpunished petty crimes lead to more serious crimes. Well, that was New York, and that was then.
Cities that tolerate crime are sure to have more and more of it. Happy holidays.