Is Crime Still Illegal?

Earlier today, Dick’s Sporting Goods reported declining profits due to organized retail theft:

Dick’s Sporting Goods on Tuesday blamed “organized retail crime” for sinking its quarterly profits by nearly 25% — the latest retailer to reel from the growing “epidemic” of thefts around the country.

The popular retail chain reported a 23% drop in profits in the second quarter across its more than 700 stores nationwide — despite sales rising 3.6%.
[CEO Lauren] Hobart referenced organized crime and retail theft in the company’s earnings call with investors on Tuesday, calling it “an increasingly serious issue impacting many retailers.”

She continued: “Based on the results from our most recent physical inventory cycle, the impact of theft on our shrink was meaningful to both our second-quarter results and our go-forward expectations for the balance of the year. We are doing everything we can to address the problem and keep our stores, our teammates and athletes safe.”

We will return to that last point in a moment. First, though, the Wall Street Journal has more on retailers’ problems with organized crime:

Rising theft from organized crime is also weighing on Macy’s. Gennette said that the retailer is moving high-theft items away from store entrances and taking other measures but that the loss of goods from theft, misplacement or other mistakes will be at record levels for the second year in a row.

Some other retailers, from Target to Home Depot, have cited increased theft as a problem for their businesses. Some retail executives have recently cited both shoplifting and organized crime rings as reasons for diminished profits. At Nike, thefts in stores and throughout its distribution network have hurt its business.

All of these descriptions are somewhat sanitized. We have seen the videos: gangs of twenty or more criminals will descend on a store, often blocking the street in front of the store with their vehicles, and rampage through the establishment stealing whatever relatively high-volume items they can get their hands on.

Sometimes, of course, theft is carried out by smaller groups of shoplifters or by individuals, who simply load up a shopping cart and walk out of the store without paying. Very few of these stolen goods are intended for consumption by the thief. Rather, they are sold online. Organized crime is a highly profitable business.

Of course, theft has always been with us. See the 8th Commandment. But why is organized theft at the present level suddenly a problem? I think it is mostly due to post-George Floyd cowardice. Criminals of all sorts have been emboldened by irrational attacks on law enforcement and a perverse sense that crime constitutes a sort of retributive justice. When elected district attorneys proudly announce that they do not intend to prosecute criminals, and when the State of California essentially legalizes shoplifting, what do they think is going to happen? Obviously, theft will skyrocket.

And the retail chains are partly to blame. Dick’s CEO says, “We are doing everything we can to address the problem,” but I highly doubt that is true. In most retail chains, employees are instructed not to interfere with shoplifters, but to simply let them walk out with their stolen goods. In some instances, employees who tried to stop thieves have been fired. I think an important element of the chains’ motivation is fear of being called racist, since those engaged in organized retail theft are mostly black. So, if stores are unwilling to defend themselves, and public officials in many blue cities are overtly sympathetic toward lawbreakers, what we are seeing is inevitable.

This is what I don’t understand: the amount of money involved here is enormous. After its announcement today, Dick’s share price tumbled by 24%. That represents a loss in market capitalization of more than $2 billion. And Dick’s is small potatoes compared to Target, WalMart, Macy’s, Walgreens and others. A naive observer would conclude that any amount of money expended on security would be money well spent.

And no normal person considers the current regime, in which organized crime rules, acceptable. These thieves shouldn’t be hard to catch. They operate brazenly, often in broad daylight, always within view of security cameras, apparently confident that no store personnel will interfere with them, that the police will most likely stay away, and that, if they are in a blue jurisdiction, even if arrested they will face no penalty.

What is lacking is the political will to enforce our laws. Weirdly, it doesn’t seem that any of the major retail chains is doing much to rally support behind law enforcement. Why not? (Smaller operations like Gump’s are a different story.) If we can’t mobilize a consensus behind the idea that theft is unacceptable and should be prosecuted, we don’t stand a chance. The solution is obvious: we need to make crime illegal again.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.