Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said his office is requesting $1.5 million a year from the state Legislature to establish an organized retail crime unit.
The funding will help hire 10 people, including prosecutors and investigators, according to Ferguson's office, which cited an analysis from the Retail Industry Leaders Association estimating Washington retailers lost $2.7 billion to organized retail crime in 2021.
In 2021, retail "shrink," or thefts, cost the industry $94.5 billion in losses, up 4% year-over-year and nearly double the $50.6 billion in 2018, according to data from the National Retail Federation. The report shows cases of organized retail crime rings — where thieves are hired to steal specific items to be resold online — have surged more than 26% from the year prior.
According to Ferguson's office, the unit would combat groups of people who steal products and resell them for profit rather than personal use.
"This does not include general retail crimes like petty theft, shoplifting or poverty-driven crimes," the AG's office said in a news release.
In June, Ferguson's office announced the formation of a task force to improve coordination across law enforcement agencies to address organized retail crime.
Earlier this year, the King County Prosecutor's Office and Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison announced that they would partner to take on organized retail theft, with Davison also announcing plans to expedite cases and prosecute more misdemeanor thefts.
Law enforcement agencies, Ferguson's office said, have limited resources to "tackle these sophisticated crimes" and small businesses do not have the funds to hire loss prevention teams. Communities of color are "heavily impacted" by organized retail crime and the Korean American Grocers Association and business owners in the Chinatown International District are supportive of the task force, the release said.
The proposed unit also has support from the Washington Retail Association and UFCW 3000, a union representing workers in grocery, health care, retail and other industries in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
California, Arizona and Michigan have also recently established funds dedicated to preventing organized retail crime.