September 19, 2023
District Attorney, Erie County, NY, Chair of the Board, National District Attorneys Association
Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Across the country, small businesses are feeling the effects of retail crime, with over 50% falling victim just last year. Statistics show small business owners believe the matter is only getting worse, making it more important than ever to find a solution to support entrepreneurs nationwide and promote a safe marketplace for all.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Retail Crime event, John Flynn, District Attorney of Erie County, NY, and Chair of the Board at the National District Attorneys Association, discussed the impact of retail crime on small businesses and shared methods entrepreneurs can implement to protect themselves and their customers.
Who Is Involved in Retail Crime?
Retail crime has been on the rise in recent years, yet some believe district attorneys are unwilling to address the issue — whether due to political reasons or a lack of budget and resources. However, according to Flynn, these district attorneys are “few and far between.”
“There are hundreds of district attorneys across the country who do take [retail crime] seriously, who are prosecuting these crimes, and who are out there to support the business community and keep our streets and our stores safe,” Flynn explained.
To fight back against crime, Flynn believes it’s important to identify the suspects and act accordingly, citing three types of individuals who are generally involved in retail crime:
- Multi-national criminal organizations, such as the Mafia, cartels, and crime families.
- Low-level organized crime, such as a group of acquaintances who plan a theft together, but on a smaller scale.
- An individual with a mental health or drug problem who steals to support their vice or habit.
“We, as district attorneys, need to treat [each case]... differently because there are three different entities [committing retail crimes],” Flynn said.
Despite Headlines, Violent Crime May Not Have Increased Proportionally
Nationwide, government agencies and local communities have been working together to create retail crime task forces. According to Flynn, his local force meets monthly to discuss cases from various stores county-wide.
“We try to target the repeat offenders and… get them off the streets,” Flynn said. “It’s very organized from our standpoint, and it's very deliberate in what we're trying to do from a law enforcement perspective and… a communication perspective working with our local businesses and… local retailers."
Through these meetings, Flynn has learned of retail crime trends from second-hand accounts. With this insight — and despite common rhetoric — he believes there hasn’t been an increase in violent retail crimes overall; rather, we are now more aware of these crimes and their ensuing violence.
“You're seeing more violence because you're seeing more… retail crimes,” Flynn said. “From a proportional standpoint, I'm not sure that there is more actual violence happening per actual theft. You're just starting to hear more about it because there's more underlying theft — and if there's more underlying theft,... more violence [will] occur.”
In the event of a violent crime or repeat offenders, Flynn noted that district attorneys are increasing penalties and charges levied against suspects, backed by newly implemented policies such as the INFORM Consumers Act.
Creating a Task Force in Your Neighborhood Can Keep the Community Safe
For local businesses who would like to see comprehensive community task forces implemented in their area, Flynn emphasized that communication is key.
“Whatever jurisdiction you're in, whatever town or village or city where your business is located,… you need to have a direct link to that police department, and your loss prevention officers need to be in communication with that local police department to let them know what's going on,” he elaborated.
Flynn also encouraged good recordkeeping, suggesting business owners save any videos that depict a retail theft, as they could be used by the task force for long-term strategizing. However, he warned against putting employees, such as loss prevention officers, at risk in the event of a crime.
“For the safety of your employees, if you do decide to let [a suspect] go, then I recommend that you have someone follow them out in the parking lot and try to get a license plate,” Flynn advised. “...[or] try to do something to catch where they're going and what car they get into.”