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As Retail Crime Rises, NACS Expresses Concerns to House Committee

Pass the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023, NACS urges Congress, which met on issue Jan. 11
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In response to the surge in crime across the nation and its detrimental effects on small businesses, the House Committee on Small Business held a full committee hearing on Jan. 11 titled Crime on the Rise: How Lawlessness is Impacting Main Street America.

Those testifying before the committee included small-business owners, activists and law enforcement representatives, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

NACS, along with industry partners the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA), are urging Congress to pass the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023, which was introduced a year ago and which would increase the federal enforcement of organized retail crime.

“Crime deters potential customers from visiting areas where they feel unsafe.”

The groups also are asking Congress to look into ways to make reporting crimes easier and less burdensome for businesses and law enforcement, and to investigate how substance abuse and mental health issues also contribute to increased crime, NACS said.

“Crime deters potential customers from visiting areas where they feel unsafe, and many of our nation’s brick and mortar stores rely on casual foot traffic to survive,” Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-Texas) said in his opening statement. “Areas that do not have adequate public safety measures in place are causing small businesses to think twice about investing in them.”

To keep customers and employees safe, businesses are being forced to hire private security services, Williams said. “Unfortunately, many businesses are unable to pay for this expense, which shouldn’t be necessary in the first place,” he said.

Stewart’s Shops Closes Store

In one recent example of how bad crime is getting, Stewart’s Shops in November said it is closing an Albany, New York, store following a surge in theft, robberies and threats of violence that have created an unsafe environment for customers and employees.

In advance of the hearing, NACS, along with industry partners NATSO and SIGMA, sent a letter to Williams and ranking member Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) expressing concern that the level of violence and frequency associated with crime in their members’ stores has evolved drastically over recent years, NACS said.

“Retail crime has become a top issue of concern in our industry due to its dramatic increase.”

Retail crime has become a top issue of concern in our industry due to its dramatic increase,” the letter read. “For example, since January 2020, the monthly per store losses due to theft in the convenience industry has more than doubled. With that increase, by August of last year, merchandise losses due to theft reached an average per store per month total of $1,953. This is a huge blow for businesses that survive on tiny profit margins of less than 2.5%.”

The letter added that the associations’ members have seen increases in theft of all products, including motor fuels, lottery tickets, tobacco products and cases of beer.

Also in his opening statement, Williams said there are policy decisions making it harder for small businesses to deal with this new challenge.

“For example, last year the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, forced some small businesses to close early to protect against crime,” he said. “Instead of focusing on the individuals committing the crimes, the mayor decided to force the business owners to limit the time of day they can work to earn a living. This is simply unacceptable.”

Cashless Bail

Williams also mentioned metropolitan areas that are instituting cashless bail, which he said lets repeat offenders back on the streets to continue to commit crimes.

“The New York Times reported that in New York City, 327 people were collectively arrested over 6,000 times for shoplifting,” Williams said. “This accounted for one-third of all shoplifting crimes in the city, which is particularly detrimental to small businesses.”

Thieves have become more brazen and more violent when committing these crimes, NACS said. Citing its 2023 Crime & Loss Prevention Survey, the letter said that one of the fastest-rising areas of concern for the industry is the “potential for violent crime against employees.”

“It is imperative that customers and employees feel safe in our stores,” the letter continued. “The Associations’ members have therefore invested in ways to combat crime and promote security in their locations—resources that negatively impact on their bottom line.”

“It is imperative that customers and employees feel safe in our stores.”

NACS members have spent money on security cameras, alarm systems and technology solutions and, for some, security guards, the association said.

“In fact, across the industry, the largest areas of spending on crime prevention are in technology and video analytics solutions,” the letter continued. “These security investments are especially necessary in jurisdictions where law enforcement has been reluctant to respond.”

NACS members also have boosted spending on employee training to increase situation awareness, de-escalate threatening situations and help keep store personnel and customers safe.

The full NACS letter to the committee can be found here.

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