Retail theft battle hits home as two guards stabbed, one dead in Macy’s attack

Dec. 4, 2023
Retail theft has been in the headlines since the pandemic and it has collectively cost businesses large and small hundreds of billions of dollars. Debate has also raged on about what retail leaders and the security industry should do about it.

Retail theft has been in the headlines since the pandemic and it has collectively cost businesses large and small hundreds of billions of dollars. Debate has also raged on about what retail leaders and the security industry should do about it.

This challenge took on new urgency Monday when two security workers at Macy’s – who were employees and not private contract guards – were stabbed at Macy’s City Center store in Philadelphia. The suspect fled on the city’s public transportation system, but he was later captured by police.

Interim Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Stanford said the guards confronted a man at about 10:45 a.m. who was allegedly stealing hats at Macy’s City Center store. After the suspect gave the hats back, police said he was allowed to leave the store and officers were never called.

But the man returned 15 minutes later brandishing a knife and stabbed the two unarmed guards multiple times. Police rushed both victims to Jefferson Hospital, and one of them passed while the other is recovering. Both workers were in their 20s, with one of them employed for a few years and another just a few months.

Theft Escalates

Stanford told reporters in a press conference broadcast by NBC10 the Center City store was frequently targeted by thieves, with more than 250 theft reports filed this year alone.

Macy’s would not directly answer questions Monday about how the company has handled security at the store and if the guards broke any store procedures when they confronted the suspect.

“We are heartbroken about the tragedy that took place today at Macy's Center City,” Macy’s said in a statement. “The store will temporarily remain closed as we work with law enforcement on this investigation and defer any further comments about the case to them. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our customers and colleagues is always our top priority.”

“The security officers are just doing their jobs. They’re here to make sure that people can come to this location and shop in a safe manner,” Stanford said. “And for something like this happen on a Monday morning during the holiday season … is just another indication that every bit of crime is important in this city.

“We’ve made some significant strides on violent crime this year, but still it’s not good enough if people don’t feel safe. When have incident like this occurs on Monday morning at a major retailer in Center City, it’s troubling -- not just for large chains like this but businesses throughout the city.

“What starts out as a retail theft ended up as a homicide here.”

He added that Philadelphia police often have officers in that area but they weren’t present here Monday morning. Stanford noted many establishments in Philadelphia have been increasing their security presence with more city police or private security.

Did they act properly?

Steve Amitay, president of the National Association of Security Companies, acknowledged that the guards weren’t contracted, but it was still “a real tragedy and a very unfortunate scenario. 

“It seems the security officers acted properly in that they got the shoplifter to leave the store without endangering anyone, but for the shoplifter to then come back to attack the security officers with a deadly weapon is very tragic,” Amitay said.

Mark Doyle, president of Jack L. Hayes International, said in a report released by the firm earlier this year that the rate of apprehensions for retail theft has been increasing overall, but where and how that happens depends on the retailer. Jack Hayes international is a renowned loss prevention/ inventory shrinkage control consulting firm.

Doyle said 2022’s gains in apprehensions was a combination of incidents, reporting and steps taken by retailers. But there’s still been a steady increase in organized retail crime and thieves being unafraid to be caught due to reduced focus on criminal consequences and a poor economy.

Customer service is the best deterrent to shoplifting, Doyle noted, as many shoplifters want and need privacy to commit their thefts. But many retailers aren’t are unable to increase their payroll with sales being stagnant.

There are “some very positive anti-theft actions taking place,” he said, such as the INFORM Consumers Act, RFID technology combined with machine learning, artificial intelligence, facial and feature recognition, power tool activation technology, and self-service locking cases. 

“Large retailers who have loss prevention personnel in the stores have continued to make apprehensions this year as needed and are always taking customer and employee safety into consideration,” Doyle said Monday.

“With smaller or specialty retailers with no assigned loss prevention people in their stores, apprehensions are less -- and in those that do make apprehensions they are only to be made by qualified and trained managers. Safety takes precedent in all situations.”

John Dobberstein is managing editor of and oversees all content creation for the website. Dobberstein continues a 34-year decorated journalism career that has included stops at a variety of newspapers and B2B magazines.