Gov. Kathy Hochul declared war against shoplifting on Tuesday, saying retail thievery in New York has spiraled out of control — with many products in stores under lock and key.
Hochul unveiled a multi-pronged plan to tackle the shoplifting scourge, including boosting penalties for offenders who assault retail workers.
“I say, ‘No More!’ The chaos must stop!,” she said during her 2024 State of the State address delivered in Albany.
The governor’s plan would create a new category of crime to prosecute those who sell stolen goods online and set up a new “smash and grab unit” in the New York State Police Department to prosecute theft rings.
Hochul also vowed to provide dedicated funding to district attorneys to prosecute property crime, primarily retail theft.
She noted that grand larceny crimes were up double digits compared to figures before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Other initiatives proposed in the governor’s plan include:
- Launching a new joint state, local and federal retail theft operation modeled after the existing gun enforcement task force.
- Expanding the work of Crime Analysis Centers to gather evidence from retailers victimized by organized crime to share with enforcement to boost investigations and prosecutions.
- Offering a tax credit to help merchants cover security costs and the loss of money from shoplifting.
“Across our nation and state retail theft has surged, creating fear among the customers and workers. Thieves brazenly tear items off the shelves and menace employees,” Hochul said.
“Owners go broke replacing broken windows and stolen goods, driving many out of business. These attacks are …. a breakdown of the social order.”
She noted that baby formula other essential goods are “locked behind plastic panels” in stores because of shoplifting.
Conspicuously absent from her plan, however, was any talk of specifically imposing tougher penalties for serial shoplifters.
Merchants applauded Hochul for making shoplifting a key plank in her public safety agenda — but said tougher penalties are still needed to deter thievery.
“We are happy with the governor’s support for our employees. Increasing penalties for assaults against our workers is a big part of our agenda,” said Nelson Eusabio, a leader with the National Supermarket Association.
He liked the other initiatives, but said he was disappointed Hochul’s plan doesn’t include tougher penalties for serial shoplifters.
“Increased penalties and prison time are the only way you’re going to deter shoplifters. What’s the deterrent?,” Eusabio said.
Other retail groups said Hochul’s plan was a good start.
“Retail workers — deemed ‘essential workers’ at the height of the pandemic – need our help, and we are glad to see that Governor Kathy Hochul is taking this head-on,” the Collective Action to Protect our Stores said in a statement.
“For too long, retail workers have been subject to repeated attacks in stores, but legislators in Albany now have the chance to stand up for them in a real way by including them in this year’s budget.”
The Retail Council of New York State said it was “encouraged” by Hochul’s comprehensive plan.
“We have prioritized many of these initiatives for quite some time,” said Retail Council President Melissa O’Connor.
“Inter-agency coordination at the state and local level is absolutely critical to identify emerging trends and the worst offenders, and we strongly support the appointment of dedicated prosecutors for cases involving retail theft,” she said.
“This criminal activity goes well beyond the financial loss for retailers – it threatens the safety of store employees and the community. Governor Hochul has taken the time to understand the severity of these challenges, and we will work closely with her administration to ensure each initiative is implemented in 2024.”
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx) said he will “of course” continue to push his measure to charge recidivist shoplifters with fourth-degree grand larceny — a Class E felony that could be a bailable offense, despite its absence from the governor’s plan.
He called Hochul’s proposals “steps in the right direction.”