Shoplifting has increased significantly in New York City during the pandemic due to a range of economic and social ills ranging from hunger to the stress and anxiety brought on by current living conditions.
New York City Mayoral candidate Eric Adams is placing the blame elsewhere. A former New York City police officer backed by police unions, he claims that criticism of police has led to people stealing from retailers.
Petty larceny cases in New York City have increased 3 percent, up 1,931 cases in 2021 compared with 1,875 cases for the same period in 2019, according to New York Police Department (NYPD) stats. The petty larceny designation includes any theft under $1,000, not just shoplifting, The Washington Post reported.
Adams has the backing of the city’s powerful police unions, and he’s blaming some of the increase in shoplifting on public criticism of the police — something he says has left the police hesitant to take action. “We’re eroding the foundation of public safety when we allow things like that to happen,” Adams said during an interview on MSNBC.
Over the past 50 years, police unions have become one of the most powerful lobbyists in local government and the strongest voices against criminal justice reform — especially when it comes to police use of force and discipline.
Unlike most unions, police unions are “profoundly conservative institutions that uphold a particular white ethnic, law-and-order-focused variant of right-wing politics,” Dylan Matthews wrote for Vox. “The presence of a segment of a union movement that’s unapologetically right-wing and hostile to Black communities has tested the limits of solidarity from more left-wing unionists.”
Some stores in New York City have turned to hiring off-duty police officers as security. Drug-store chain Duane Reade recently added off-duty NYPD officers to act as security in its stores to curtail shoplifting, NBC New York reported.
Shoplifters are blatantly bringing in garbage bags to steal from retailers such as drug store Duane Reade, according to Adams.
The Moguldom Nation CEO Jamarlin Martin challenged Adams to “Prove people are coming in stores with garbage bags because of criticism of the police. Show me the actual facts on that one. Other police departments cite stresses related to covid & other factors” Martin tweeted.
“The police unions & WallStreet got a good representative in there,” Martin added.
The coronavirus recession has caused high unemployment and economic uncertainty. Many Americans are experiencing hunger is at levels not seen in decades, The Washington Post reported.
An estimated 54 million Americans will struggle with hunger this year, a 45-percent increase from 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With food aid programs such as SNAP and WIC reduced during the Trump administration and other federal assistance on the brink of expiration, some people have turned to shoplifting.
After the pandemic started, stores began to see more shoplifting of staples such as bread, pasta, and baby formula.
Pedro Goico owns six grocery stores in the NYC boroughs of the Bronx and Brooklyn. His stores have been plagued with shoplifters and he estimates that 6-to-7 percent of his bottom line has disappeared because of theft since March. Before covid-19, he said he’d typically lose about 1 percent to shoplifters, The New York Daily News reported.
“We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” said Jeff Zisner, CEO of workplace security firm Aegis, in the Washington Post. “It’s not a whole lot of people going in, grabbing TVs and running out the front door. It’s a very different kind of crime — it’s people stealing consumables and items associated with children and babies.”
Stress and anxiety due to the pandemic are also credited with an increase in crime.
“I just think you have a shorter fuse when you’re stressed … you’re more likely to lash out,” said Dr. Samuel Prater with Memorial Hermann and UTHealth in Houston, Texas, in a KHOU interview. “Losing your source of income, that comes along with that, and sort of feeling like maybe you have no other means and no other way out.”
Shoplifting tends to spike during national crises. It increased 16 percent after the 9/11 attacks and 34 percent after the 2008 recession, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. But the current shoplifting trend is skewing even higher, according to Read Hayes, a criminologist at the University of Florida and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council.
Nearly 26 million adults — one in 8 Americans — reported not having enough food to eat as of mid-November, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau. That figure has climbed steadily during the pandemic and has hit record highs since the government agency began collecting such data in 1998.
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During his MSNBC interview, Adams said the NYPD has to get rid bad police officers. “What I must say to my police officers I have your back,” Adams said, adding that the department has become a safe haven for officers “who aren’t qualified to wear that uniform” and those officers need to be weeded out. Adams has received campaign support from the union representing 4,000 New York State police troopers and the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, which represents 24,000 members.