April 20, 2023
Attorney General, Virginia
Senior Vice President, Legal Reform Initiatives, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform
According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, 8 out of 10 retailers have reported increased incidences of robberies, larceny, and burglaries. This alarming trend not only results in immediate losses for businesses, but also has broader implications such as business closures, the reluctance of companies to relocate to certain cities and states, and significant costs passed on to consumers and taxpayers.
One of the key factors contributing to the problem is the failure of local prosecutors to effectively prosecute crimes that hurt businesses, and government policy plays a crucial role in addressing this issue. During the America’s Crime Wave event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, experts discussed the impact of prosecution failure on businesses.
Government Policy Hinders Businesses from Dealing with Crime
According to Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, organized retail crime has been cited to be a particular concern in Virginia, with an estimated $1.3 billion worth of merchandise stolen annually by organized gangs. Miyares emphasized that there is no such thing as a victimless crime, as the costs are ultimately borne by law-abiding citizens.
“We’ve seen a huge hit to our small business retailers,” he said. “It's the law-abiding [who] are having to pay to cover the cost for what the law-breaking is doing … Some of these prosecutors that are choosing not to prosecute are only making a bad situation even worse.”
Miyares highlighted the need for prosecutors to prioritize and actively prosecute such crimes to send a clear message that criminal behavior will not be tolerated — especially since there’s a pattern of re-victimization for all types of crimes.
“Those that have been arrested for first-degree murder in Virginia had previously been arrested on average over seven times,” Miyares said. “So you also see that continual criminal behavior can lead to additional criminal behavior.”
Fighting Organized Retail Crime Requires Effectively Prosecuting and Deterring Criminals
To combat organized retail crime, Miyares has formed a work group that includes representatives from the business and retail community, as well as law enforcement.
“I never think I'm the smartest person in any room I walk into, but I'm smart enough to know when I hear good ideas,” he said. “We wanted to bring folks from the business community and the retail community as far as a workgroup coupled with law enforcement [to hear] what they're saying and what their recommendations would be, and also hear what other states are doing as well.”
He noted that the task force was extremely effective in tackling organized retail crime.
“We then had legislation this past general assembly on organized retail crime that would make it a class-three felony to steal $5,000 or more of merchandise in a 90-day period,” Miyares said.
Retail Crime Is Linked with Human Trafficking Advertising
Miyares noted that there’s also a link between retail crime and human trafficking.
“I've gone over the lost tax revenue and how it hurts our small business owners, but also what we've seen [is] … one of the number one ways that these individuals pay for advertising for human trafficking victims to pay for sex services is through stolen gift cards from retailers,” he said. “So they are committing larceny-related crimes to then, in turn, enable human trafficking.”
Miyares added that the more we ignore larceny, the more it will lead to larger issues and more serious crimes.
“A lot of these crimes [are] oftentimes interwoven,” he continued. “And I think it's important that you tackle it as well because what has happened is when you don't take it seriously, it has led to a lot of the problems that we're seeing now.”