Emerging Issues in Security, Facility Security

Retail Smash-and-Grab Robberies Surge Amid Holiday Season

A recent spree of “smash-and-grab theft,” a category of organized retail crime (ORC), in major U.S. cities has retailers and shoppers on alert this holiday season. The size, audacity, and violence of incidents in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago have drawn major media attention; however, ORC has been a growing threat for decades.

The National Retail Federation reported a 60% rise in ORC in the U.S. since 2015, with nearly 70% of retailers seeing an increase in 2021. The rise in ORC has brought with it an increase in retail violence, with over 500 people (including employees and shoppers) killed in retail crimes in 2020.

In the wake of the recent crime spree, Genetec Inc., a technology provider of unified security, public safety, operations, and business intelligence solutions, shared some insights into the phenomenon and strategies for addressing ORC.

Low-Risk, High-Reward Crime

According to Genetec, the rise in ORC in the U.S. is attributable to many factors, starting with a lack of federal law preventing this type of activity and the fact that some states have decriminalized low-level offenses.

Lynda Buel, president of security consulting firm SRMC, told CNN, “For the low-level criminal, the benefit far outweighs the risk, since the threshold for a misdemeanor offense is $950—meaning that a person can steal up to that amount and only be charged with a misdemeanor.”

Additionally, with law enforcement stretched thin and mask mandates providing anonymity, the chances of being apprehended can be low. If apprehended, perpetrators can post low bail or signature bond, and charges are often dropped if the merchandise value is under felony level. Even if prosecuted and convicted, perpetrators rarely receive jail time.

With the many online platforms available to sell stolen items, the profitability of this crime is substantial. Large ORC crews in some locales have netted in excess of $1 million in illicit profits.

Slowing ORC

Absent federal laws, Genetec says, cities and counties must commit to arresting, prosecuting, and convicting ORC criminals and gangs to deter these crimes. Greater collaboration is needed between retailers, law enforcement, and prosecutors to identify ORC gang leaders and sellers of stolen merchandise.

Technology, including predictive analytics, automatic license plate readers (ALPR), body-worn cameras, and video evidence sharing platforms, can help coordinate efforts and lead to successful prosecution of these perpetrators on felony charges and jail time. Retailers can deploy a unified security platform to tie these technologies together to streamline monitoring and response.

Furthermore, online marketplace platforms can actively monitor high-volume sellers of merchandise listed as “new” and work more closely with retailers asking for assistance on cases. Social media platforms could help stem the tide by alerting law enforcement when “flash mob” gatherings are planned at retail establishments. When shopping online, consumers can impact ORC by being aware that substantially lower prices on branded merchandise offered by unaffiliated sellers could mean items are potentially stolen or counterfeit.