Shoplifting, including organized retail theft, has been surging in cities across America, and a new generation of woke CEOs and state legislators are implementing unusual methods of addressing the epidemic. Actually, they are coming up with ways not to deal with the problem.
In 2022 alone, it is estimated that retail stores lost more than $94.5 billion to shoplifters. Retail industry analysts estimate that the average loss per shoplifting incident is $1,178.57; that was in 2021, which represented a 26.6% increase over 2020.
Despite the prevalence of anti-theft technology and ubiquitous surveillance cameras supposed to stem the shoplifting tide, a mere 2% of shoplifters are caught and far fewer ever prosecuted.
The CEO of one major retail company, Lululemon, has implemented a “zero tolerance” plan by which to deal with shoplifters. Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald’s company-wide “zero tolerance” policy, however, does not punish the shoplifters. Instead, it calls for firing any employee who tries to impede a shoplifter. Two employees (in woke speak, the company calls them “educators” rather than “employees”) recently were summarily fired from the Lululemon store where they worked in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, for no reason other than they confronted a couple of shoplifters and demanded they leave the store.
Common sense actions as confronting shoplifters caught in the act of pilfering expensive clothing at a retail store in years past would be considered standard response to shoplifters caught in the act, and praised by management. Now, at least from the perspective of the highly educated and generously paid Calvin McDonald, the preferred way to protect the company and its shareholders, is to simply “step back, [and] let the theft occur.”
Strange as Lululemon’s policy is, it is consistent with a piece of legislation recently passed overwhelmingly by the California State Senate — S.B. 553, which would prohibit employers in the state from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront . . . suspected shoplifters.” The legislation focuses largely on ensuring that retail employers implement labor policies to promote employee “safety” by not confronting or challenging shoplifters. A modern version of the “leave the inmate in charge of the asylum” adage.
Adding to the cost of shoplifting borne by businesses and consumers alike are the soft-on-shoplifting prosecution policies of woke district attorneys including those in a number of Democrat-run cities.
Over-the-counter drugs are a favorite target for shoplifters. This presents a very practical challenge for stores that carry these easily concealable items – how to prevent theft but also make the items viewable to prospective consumers.
Some efforts by heads of major chains such as Walgreens who, unlike their counterpart at Lululemon, actually and responsibly strive to stem the crime wave in hard-hit cities like Chicago, are resorting to placing most items behind locked glass doors. Not surprisingly, such efforts have not been met with favor by shoppers, despite the store describing the design as a way to “enhance the experiences of [its] customers and team members” (i.e., employees).
Where this all will lead remains to be seen, but the prospects for more effective control of rampant shoplifting in the current environment does not appear bright.
The mix of “restorative justice” prosecutors, woke and timid CEOs, state laws and corporate policies making it increasingly difficult to stand up to shoplifters, deteriorating civil social bonds, increased gang and organized retail theft rings, legalized drug use, homeless camps on doorsteps of retail businesses, widespread propensity toward violent behavior, street-based mental health issues, reduced police presence, periodic rampages by gangs, and shuttering of retail establishments on the losing end of heightened shoplifting, combine to create a truly toxic mixture.
The Lululemon approach may salve the conscience of woke companies and government officials, but it will do nothing to solve the problem of rampant shoplifting.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.