Organized retail crime increasing, costing customers more at checkout

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind - When 41-year-old William Allen allegedly shot Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Eric Rosenbaum two weeks ago, Allen was already being investigated for multiple thefts at retail stores in at least two counties.

Investigators believe Allen, who already had criminal history in four states, was making money through organized retail crime, or ORC.

“When you are stealing product and making profit,” said Lowe’s Regional Security Director, Matt Thompson.

Thompson oversees security and asset protection at 36 Lowe’s stores in Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. He says Allen’s case illustrates how violence can result from organized retail crime, which has been increasing in Indianapolis for the last several years.

“You also should be concerned about the public safety aspect of it,” Thompson said. “There’ve been several customers as well as employees injured in these incidents.”

Thompson is also the president of the Indiana Retail Organized Crime Coalition, or IROCC. He says ORC cases can involve groups of dozens of theft suspects working together, or individuals planning to steal and resell merchandise for profit. The increased prevalence of online secondary sales is helping to drive a steady increase in the crimes, he says.

“Now they can go out with very little risk and sell through different avenues on the internet,” Thompson said.

Theft suspects have grown more bold in recent years, Thompson said/ In-store security videos repeatedly show thieves walking right past checkout counters with their arms full of items like power tools. Thompson says organized retail criminals know most retailers have “hands off” policies when it comes to employees confronting theft suspects.

“They know the people doing it are violent criminals,” Thompson said. “You’re not going to put your cashier, your loader, your etcetera in harms way.”

Thompson says organized retail crime is currently costing Indianapolis businesses at least $1 million each year in lost products, while general theft is costing those companies between $8 million and $10 million per year. He says those costs are ultimately passed on to customers at the checkout.

“We have to pick up the cost,” he said. “All retailers have to pick up the cost to offset the theft.”

While Thompson says it’s impossible to quantify how individual product prices are affected by theft, he says criminal activity as a cumulative effect on customers.

“A few cents here and a few cents there on every product to pick up the cost is where it really hits,” Thompson said. “And over time obviously that’s going to make an impact.”

The impact isn’t only passed along to customers at big box stores. Pat Sullivan, owner of Indianapolis-based Sullivan Home and Garden says the increasing threat of theft is the reason his company now pays for 65 security cameras at their Keystone Avenue location. He says one of his cashiers was recently pepper-sprayed by a group of thieves. Sullivan says the cost of security and stolen products are always passed on to customers at retail stores.

“I don’t think the consumer realizes how much stuff like that gets passed on,” Sullivan said. “Whether it’s the shoplifting and the theft and as it increases, yeah it does.”

Thompson says about half of organized retail criminals come to Indiana from other states because of differences in laws regarding the crime. He and IROCC have been pushing for Indiana lawmakers to pass tougher legal penalties specific to organized retail crime. He says the bill has passed the Indiana House for the last three years, but has died in the Senate each year.

“There are 17 states left in the United States that don’t have ORC legislation and Indiana sits right in the middle of the midwest,” Thompson said. “We’re the only one that does not have legislation.”

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