Retail Organized Crime, a national phenomenon of retail theft, has reached Suffolk County.
Last week, four people from Newark, New Jersey, were arrested by the Suffolk County Police Department for their alleged involvement in an ORC ring that stole $94,000 worth of luxury handbags from a store Balenciaga at East Hampton on March 3. Suffolk County Prosecutor Ray Tierney (R) held a press conference shortly after the arrests, announcing that those responsible for the theft will be prosecuted.
“The East Hampton individuals stole $94,000 worth of bags and they were going to resell them on the secondary market, and they were going to make tens of thousands of dollars in profit,” Tierney said. “The purpose of the press conference last week was to let people know that we are paying attention and that we are going to fix this because ultimately the people who bear the costs of this theft are the consumers, the citizens of Suffolk County who have to pay increased prices for everything.
ORC refers to coordinated shoplifting carried out by rings of professional thieves. According to Tierney, there are stark differences between ORC and ordinary shoplifting.
“We try to separate retail theft from these organized retail theft networks,” he said. “While we take all retail theft seriously, we want to place particular emphasis on organized retail theft rings, where individuals come in and steal large amounts of merchandise en masse for the specific purpose of reselling it on the secondary market. for profit.”
Gus Downing is publisher and editor of The D&D Daily, an online publication that tracks retail trends and raises awareness about these issues. According to him, ORC has proliferated in recent years due to the boom in the online resale market.
“Organized retail crime has been around for a long time, but the internet and online third-party selling is really what’s kicked this into the stratosphere,” he said in a phone interview. “When you look at the internet and third-party sellers, and then you look at the opioid epidemic and the cartels that are flooding the United States with fentanyl, and then you look at the surge in crime generically, you have a hell of a problem. which is getting out of control.
Downing said a sizable proportion of mainstream opioid users need a stream of income to fund their habit. According to him, the ORC and drugs are inextricably linked.
“It’s really about drugs,” he said. “That’s what drives a person to walk into a store to steal. They need to get the money, and where is the easiest place to get it when you have millions of people online who would like a deal? »
Tierney has yet to notice any connection between the ORC and drugs in the area. According to him, the strong returns seem to be motivating the spike in ORC-related incidents across the county.
“There is the sector of the population that is addicted to drugs – they may have mental health issues, and in an ad hoc and unorganized way they steal things for their livelihood and the little money they have. ‘they earn go drugs or they steal for food,’ he said, adding, “These people in organized networks, I don’t see drugs and addiction being a factor in that. I see that it’s a profit margin.
“These organized gangs, they prey on the most vulnerable people in our society.”
— Barbara Staib, director of development and communications at the National Association for the Prevention of Shoplifting
The National Association for the Prevention of Shoplifting, based in Huntington Station, is an organization that works to combat retail-related theft through education. According to Barbara Staib, director of development and communications at NASP, shoplifters can be separated into two categories: professional and non-professional.
“While not all shoplifters are involved in ORC, anyone who is involved in ORC is a shoplifter,” she said in a phone interview. “People don’t immediately rush to get involved in organized gangs. They started out as shoplifters.
According to its website, the NASP offers online courses for adults and minors who must take a flight course as required by a court or probation officer. Staib suggested that programs like these help reduce the recidivism of retail theft crimes, which in turn can deter recruitment into ORC networks.
Staib said the NASP works with non-professional shoplifters. These individuals, she says, are often the most vulnerable to the predatory recruiting tactics of ORC ringleaders.
“These organized gangs, they prey on the most vulnerable people in our society,” she said. “They prey on the homeless, the drug addicts, the people who may be in a bad place in their lives and who need money.” She added: “From a societal point of view, the ORC is very damaging.”
Tierney recognized the need to deal with retail theft incidents on a case-by-case basis. He said the county offers various programs, such as Stoplift, for first-time offenders. However, he added that those who follow a pattern of criminal behavior will be held accountable for their actions.
“The people who stole the $94,000 worth of bags were not first-time offenders,” he said. “These repeat offenders getting rich are completely different from first-time shoplifters,” adding, “Of course, we’re going to treat the first-time shoplifter very differently than we are with these organized theft networks.”
Staib finds a silver lining through programs like NASP that educate shoplifters. While she views ORC as a dangerous criminal trend that requires severe penalties, she views shoplifting education as a way to counter the spread of ORC.
“We must approach [shoplifting] in two different ways,” Staib said. “We must approach ORC as a criminal crime that is punished severely.” Discussing ways to tackle unprofessional shoplifting, she added: “Our message is that education is valuable at all times for someone who shoplifts.”
To learn more about the shoplifting education programs offered by NASP, visit the website www.shopliftingprevention.org.