SIW: How have you seen ORC evolve and what does the formation of this task force say about how seriously law enforcement is taking the problem?
Mellor: Obviously, this is a bit of a success story. There are lots of news articles and press (coverage) as far as statistics (related to ORC) and when arrests take place, getting those in front of the public and legislators to help put in place laws that are adequate to deal with the gravity of this crime and make the penalties severe enough that we can take these individuals off the street and hopefully dismantle the enterprises in which they operate. The first success story, and part of this evolution, is the awareness level now on the legislative side, the law enforcement side and even the chief executive officers of retail companies are all very much aware of how severe the problem is, what the implications to the economy and the business are if, in fact, we don’t put a dent and a stop to the criminal enterprises that engage in this.
This also has all sorts of ramifications for consumers in the way of prices they pay for products. The availability of products is not spoken about very often, but it’s a pretty significant thing for consumers who want to buy particular products. When these bad guys steal large quantities of products from the store, it depletes the inventory levels and it’s difficult for the retailers to keep up with that and, in some cases, smaller companies, smaller stores can’t survive if they have to continue to bring a product in and it’s stolen from them. It’s difficult for those smaller stores to survive this type of theft. Sometime they have to make a decision not to sell that product anymore because if they continue their profitability will be completely evaporated and they won’t be able to continue to stay in business.
As (ORC) has evolved, this awareness level… has continued to elevate on the part of law enforcement. As time has gone on, the law enforcement community has not only become more aware, but there have been investments made on the side of retailers to put appropriate surveillance equipment within their own companies and they have also put in place their own organized retail crime task forces. Now when you alert the police, they are aware of the problem, they know what the nuances of organized retail crime are and they’re a bit more able and knowledgeable to be in place and ready to react. All of the efforts on the law enforcement side are starting to have an impact. The next step for us is seeing if we can get a federal law on the books that help retailers, as well as law enforcement crossover state lines in tracking these individuals, making the arrests, taking the proceeds that they recover, and making that into one charge.
SIW: Although this task force is focused on South Florida, do you believe this potentially opens the door to create other task forces in cities where there has also been a high rate of ORC?
Mellor: I think this is a notable step forward on the part of South Florida. The law enforcement community and retailers in other cities are working hard on this too. The organized retail crime associations were put together just to start the conversation going and some of them have huge memberships. I foresee things taking the next step. I think this is great that South Florida stepped up to the plate and they’re doing something a bit more dramatic and I think this is a trend that will begin to happen and these ORC associations will no doubt take their lead from this. The first one is always the most difficult, as you know, no matter what you do. It comes a little bit easier when other cities can make reference to Miami and South Florida and say: “Here’s what they’re doing, why can’t we do the same thing?” They broke ground on this and the fact that they have a federal agency involved in this… it’s a nice linkage for that to happen in other cities with federal involvement.
SIW: How has legislation passed by other states aided the prosecution of ORC?