According to the recently released results of the National Retail Federation’s ninth annual Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Survey, 93.5 percent of retailers say they have been a victim of ORC in the past year. Although that is down slightly from 96 percent in 2012, eight in 10 (81.3 percent) believe that ORC activity has actually increased over the last three years.
One of the common complaints over the years by those who work in the loss prevention industry is that there has been a lack of awareness by law enforcement, as well as state and federal lawmakers about the severity of the problem. However, according to the survey, awareness levels by law enforcement are on the rise as nearly half of this year’s survey respondents said they believed law enforcement understands the problems associated with ORC.
While federal ORC legislation has yet to be passed, many states have taken it upon themselves to make the penalties for those involved in organized retail theft gangs more severe. Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that increases the sentencing scoring guidelines for an organized retail theft offense. Those persons found guilty of retail theft crimes at $50,000 or more would face a minimum sentence of 21 months in prison.
And, just two weeks ago, federal, state and local authorities announced the formation of a new task force in South Florida designed to reign in organized retail theft and help coordinate prosecutions of ORC-related cases. In this “At the Frontline” interview, NRF Vice President of Loss Prevention Richard Mellor discusses what he believes the ramifications from the creation of this new task force will be, as well as other trends in ORC.
SIW: What kind of impact do you believe this task force will have on ORC in South Florida?
Mellor: This is an extraordinary opportunity for, specifically, Florida. Miami happens to be the fourth ranked city or metropolitan area for ORC activity, according to the NRF’s Organized Retail Crime Survey. It has been in the top 10 year after year… so it has gotten a lot of focus from the law enforcement community. Retailers have been very proactive reaching out to law enforcement for help and assistance in trying to curtail the crime. With that in mind, although it has been earmarked as a federal task force, it is a combination of local police departments, state police and organizations, as well as federal (authorities) coming together to talk about the gravity of the problem in southern Florida. But, moreover, and here is the defining thing that I feel is going to be instrumental in helping the overall problem on ORC: There are many organized retail crime associations around the United States, there’s upwards of 30 of them that are information sharing in nature – retailers and law enforcement getting together and talking about incidents that have occurred, what they may be able to do about them and sharing that information from one retailer to another. As far as the task force is concerned, it is not only bringing together those retailers and law enforcement, but prosecutors as well. And the prosecutors are local, state and federal.
The difference is that it’s a proactive organization that is investigating and making arrests. The introduction of the (Department of Homeland Security) investigating, as well as the U.S. attorney there makes it more practical and able to prosecute these individuals committing these crimes that jump from one state to another and from other city jurisdictions. Now there is a collaborative task force that is not only investigating and making the arrests, but also prosecuting at the same time. The prosecutors are now in the loop, sharing the information and utilizing the information to make effective prosecutions and go after not just the people that are perpetrating the thefts, but also the enterprises that are engaging in a business of making lots of money off of these thefts. This is really a huge step forward as far as collaboration is concerned and it’s a huge step forward in a strategic approach arresting these people and prosecuting them versus just sharing information and hoping to arrest and prosecute.