NY retailers blast Hochul over theft which has cost stores $4.4 billion

NY retailers blast Hochul over theft which has cost stores $4.4 billion

Retailers across New York state say there’s no end in sight to the rising epidemic of organized shoplifting rings — and warn it could lead to more store closures, increased costs for consumers and threats of violence against store employees.

Store owners said they lost $4.4 billion last year as a result of retail theft — which they say adds to the urgency for Gov. Kathy Hochul to crack down.

However, Hochul vetoed a bipartisan bill last week — to the chagrin of store owners — that would have created a task force to combat organized theft.

Hochul rejected a proposal that would have created a 15-member panel made up of experts appointed by the governor, Legislature and the state attorney general that would have put together a list of recommendations to respond to retail theft.

The Retail Council of New York State, the Albany-based lobbying group which represents retailers statewide, said it was “extremely disappointed” by Hochul’s veto.

Organized retail theft cost businesses $4.4 billion statewide, according to a lobbying group.

Melissa O’Connor, the president and CEO of the group, released a statement saying that she urged the governor to take “immediate action” so as to formulate “an effective, collaborative response to this problem.”

“She made it abundantly clear that retail theft prevention will be a priority for her administration, and we look forward to working with her to achieve results,” O’Connor said.

A spokesperson for Hochul said that adopting the proposal would have cost the state $35 million — an expenditure that wasn’t allotted in the most recent budget.

Law enforcement officials from New York City to Albany to Syracuse have reported increases in incidents of retail theft — blaming the spike on progressive prosecutors who encourages criminal behavior with lenient punishment for shoplifters.

Last month, the chief of police in Syracuse said that the city has seen a 55% spike in shoplifting since 2021 — and that’s a conservative estimate.

“That number is likely higher because businesses often don’t report it — but they do continue to express concerns,” Syracuse Police Chief Joe Cecile said.

Cecile warned that small businesses are “having trouble sustaining themselves” in the face of the shoplifting campaign.

One local pharmacy chain in Syracuse alone suffered losses of more than $250,000 per year due to the epidemic of organized retail theft, Cecile told WSTM-TV last month.

The rash of organized theft rings has forced stores to shutter in New York City and Albany.

So far this year, the Albany Police Department has fielded 23 calls for larcenies at a single Stewart’s convenience store on Central Avenue — up from 14 at the same time in 2022.

The rash of retail thefts at the location forced the owner to shut down.

“Retail theft at convenience stores throughout the state is not as organized as at some other retailers but is as dangerous and impactful,” Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, told The Post.

“My members have reported theft that leaves stores in shambles as criminals seek cigarettes, lottery tickets, and anything they can get their hands on.”

Sopris said that convenience store clerks are “at extreme risk.”

“In fact one store reported a thief threw a pot of coffee at a clerk,” he told The Post, adding that his trade group “stands ready to work with state and local authorities and other business groups to take control of this issue.” 

As of Nov. 19, Albany police have arrested nearly 2,300 people for larceny and nearly 340 people have been accused of motor vehicle theft.

That’s well above the five-year average of 2,057 arrests for larceny and 281 for motor vehicle theft.

The trend in New York closely corresponds to the nationwide figures showing increase in “shrink.”

Shops in the Buffalo area, which have seen a gradual decline in the number of robberies and larcenies by year, have nonetheless pleaded with local police to step up patrols in response to a rash of organized retail thefts.

Stephen Lands, owner of Buffalo Fleece and Outerwear, told WIVB-TV in September that he may need to close his shop due to rampant theft of his merchandise.

In recent months, Lands said he has been robbed 20 times.

The NYPD has reported a sharp increase in shoplifting incidents in recent years.

The police “usually blame it on bail reform and say they can’t arrest them and it would just be an appearance ticket so it’s not worth coming I guess,” Lands said.

Other businesses in the Elmwood Village district of Buffalo have lodged similar complaints.

“This is one of the busiest business districts in Buffalo and it seems like there’s no police presence,” Lands said. “People walk in and walk out everyday with stuff and it happens to all these stores.”

Organized theft isn’t limited to upstate New York.

The Big Apple saw a 64% increase in reported incidents of retail theft during the four-year period between mid-2019 and June of this year, according to the Council on Criminal Justice.

Gov. Kathy Hochul was criticized by retailers for vetoing a bill that would have established a task force to combat organized retail theft.

A New York Police Department spokesperson pointed to crime statistics showing that there were more than 93,000 incidents of petty larceny through the end of October — which is 29% higher compared to the same period two years ago but 5% lower compared to the same period last year.

Around one-third of all shoplifting arrests in the five boroughs last year involved just 327 people who were collectively arrested and re-arrested a total of more than 6,000 times, according to the NYPD.

These 327 alleged shoplifters targeted 18 department stores and seven chain pharmacy locations, which accounted for 20% of all complaints, the NYPD said.

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