Retail theft in Delaware is reaching alarming levels, according to a recent analysis conducted by the Delaware State Police. The analysis predicts that theft reports will continue to rise through the end of 2023, causing concerns among local families and business owners. The economic impact of retail theft could lead to store closures, sparking worry among industry experts.
A mom recently shared her outrage on a Delaware moms’ Facebook group, describing her experience of witnessing people grabbing merchandise and running from a store. Numerous other moms chimed in with similar experiences, expressing their fear and feeling of unsafety while witnessing thefts in different stores. This trend of retail theft has been steadily increasing since the middle of 2020 and is expected to rise 16% over last year in New Castle County alone, based on the State Police analysis.
Julie Miro Wenger, the executive director of the Delaware Food Industry Council, which represents grocery and drugstores, warned that if theft continues to increase, it would not be surprising to see retailers close in Delaware. Although it is uncertain which retailers might close, the overall impact is expected to be significant. The estimated dollar value of the stolen merchandise is difficult to gauge precisely, but it reaches millions of dollars, resulting in lost revenue and products. This puts immense pressure on store staff and management.
The ripple effect of retail theft extends beyond businesses, affecting shoppers as well. The average customer has witnessed the consequences of retail theft, such as increased security measures, locked-up items, and closed entrances during certain hours. Giant Food, CVS, Acme, and other retailers have taken these precautions due to theft concerns. The highest category of thefts occurs at department stores, including Target, Old Navy, Boscov’s, Kohl’s, Ulta, Walmart, and others.
Delaware is not only experiencing sporadic thefts by individuals but also organized retail theft. Groups of people specifically target stores or certain items, often taking orders for resale. The top five items stolen in such thefts are cigarettes, Dove body wash, Tide detergent, over-the-counter medications, and meat and seafood. These stolen goods are usually resold online or to other retailers. This trend has been highlighted in an article by New York magazine, which referred to it as e-fencing.
Complicating matters further for Delaware retailers and law enforcement is the ability for thieves to quickly target stores across state lines in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This makes prosecution more challenging. Obtaining specific details about retail theft and the actions taken by companies becomes difficult when representatives refuse to comment or only provide minimal information due to proprietary concerns and the fear of public relations nightmares.
Furthermore, state agencies such as the Delaware Department of Justice struggle with significant staffing problems, necessitating a focus on violent crime over property crimes. This allocation of resources affects the ability to combat retail theft effectively. Even when cases do move through the courts, they can drag on for years, causing further frustration for store representatives.
Retailers hope to increase their chances of prosecution by implementing various measures, such as placing security cameras at face level for clearer identification. However, store owners believe that dedicated teams of police and prosecutors are necessary, along with specialized court calendars specifically for retail theft cases. The Delaware Department of Justice supports the idea of a special court calendar but acknowledges the lack of available manpower in the near future.
Not all instances of retail theft are reported, as some stores discourage employees from confronting thieves and only prosecute if they leave the store with stolen items. In certain cases, deals are made between stores and alleged thieves, resulting in agreements for compensation in exchange for not pursuing legal action. Some stores also have limitations on the dollar amount of theft they will prosecute.
As a result of these challenges, retailers may implement further security measures, such as limiting the number of allowed shoppers in establishments or restricting access to certain areas. The overall concern for retailers is maintaining the safety and sense of security for shoppers, as this affects their decision to choose brick-and-mortar stores over online shopping.
In conclusion, the rising trend of retail theft in Delaware poses significant concerns for families, business owners, and the local economy. Without effective measures and collaboration between retailers, law enforcement, and the justice system, the problem is likely to persist, resulting in potential store closures and changing consumer behavior. The need for dedicated resources and specialized court calendars is apparent, but these may not be feasible in the current staffing climate. It remains to be seen how Delaware will tackle this growing issue and ensure the safety and security of its retailers and shoppers.