(The Center Square) – Washington state retailers lost $2.7 billion to organized retail crime in 2021, prompting Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson to assemble a retail crime theft task force.
The task force is trying to improve coordination and collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address multi-jurisdictional crimes that endanger retail employees and cause significant economic harm to the state.
“Organized retail crime is a state-wide problem demanding a state-wide solution,” Ferguson said in a press conference Thursday.
The $2.7 billion theft loss figure is based on an analysis by the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Nationally, organized crime rings have accounted for almost $70 billion lost in retail stores throughout the country, according to a statement from the Washington Office of the Attorney General.
In fact, nine other states have created task forces dedicated to organized retail crime.
Petty theft and shoplifting are not under the definition of organized retail crime. Instead organized retail crime includes a group of two or more persons that steal items from retail stores and resell those items for profit.
Renee Sunde, CEO of the Washington Retail Association, said that grocery businesses in the state have been experiencing the effects of organized theft.
“In Washington State, the grocery industry alone has experienced hundreds of millions in annual losses, which have put in jeopardy the viability of some grocery stores,” Sunde said.
Vanessa Waldref, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington added that unlawful resale undercuts small businesses and makes products more expensive.
An example of organized retail crime affecting Washington and all 49 other states is the baby formula shortage. According to the 2020 National Retail Foundation’s Organized Retail Crime survey, baby formula took up 13% of the most stolen items from retail stores. This was prior to the recent shortage.
“Parents who buy stolen formula on the secondary market may be putting their babies at significant risk if the thieves failed to store it at the appropriate temperature,” the AGO said in a statement, adding the explanation that “thieves may have manipulated the packaging, such as changing expiration dates.”
The task force consists of Attorney General Ferguson, the FBI, various U.S. attorneys, county prosecutors, the Port of Seattle, retail partners, small business representatives and worker representatives.
The first meeting will be held on July 7. Quarterly meetings will follow for at least a year.