Justice Reform and the High Price of Organized Retail Crime
by R. Scott Shalley
Organized Retail Crime (ORC) is a term that retailers are very familiar with, but consumers may not be. It refers to coordinated attempts by professional thieves to steal merchandise and resell it on the black market. There are hundreds of ORC rings throughout Florida, and the people involved in these groups are knowledgeable about what items promise the highest return. They also familiarize themselves with the financial threshold that elevates these crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony. This year the Florida legislature will consider increasing the felony threshold by as much as 400 percent.
Professional shoplifting and ORC rings cost Florida’s retail industry more than $2 billion annually while state and local governments nationally lose an estimated $1.6 billion in annual sales tax revenue. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), three top ten cities for ORC are in Florida: Miami (#3), Orlando (#8) and Ft. Lauderdale (#10). Compounding the problem is that, according to shopliftingprevention.org, shoplifters are caught an average of once every 48 times they steal. The impact of these crimes are higher prices, diminished tax revenues and lost jobs. What’s more concerning is proceeds from retail theft are used to supplement gang activity, crime, drugs and human trafficking.
The Florida Retail Federation’s opposition to increases have been painted as Draconian; however, our concerns relate to the plague of ORC and repeat offenders. Throughout FRF’s 80 years of retail advocacy, we’ve supported justice reform initiatives including diversion programs and initiatives designed to keep one-time offenders out of jail. First-time offenders or youth should not be branded as felons for one indiscretion. However, laws should deter retail theft and prosecutors should have discretion to punish those who exploit the law.
Supporters of increasing the threshold cite statistics from a Pew Charitable Trusts Report which states that increasing the felony threshold does not impact the frequency of thefts that occur in stores. However, the experience of our members contradicts the Pew Report’s findings. The 2018 NRF Organized Retail Crime Survey showed that retailers in states where the felony threshold increased are experiencing increases in ORC case value. Apparently, ORC criminals understand the new threshold and have increased thefts to meet it. Keeping the value of a single “haul” under that limit means they are quickly back on the street. Make no mistake, those who partake in organized retail crime understand the ramifications of these thresholds.
During this legislative session, we are eager for our members to discuss the impact of ORC with legislative leaders. It is our priority to ensure that reform efforts do not adversely affect our efforts to fight ORC.
The Florida Retail Federation understands the challenges of our judicial system and the impetus for reform. However, at some point the rule of law matters and the label of felon fits the crime. We look forward to working with the bill sponsors Legislature to find fair solutions while providing Florida’s 270,000 retailers the protection they deserve..