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Retail Theft Boom Draws Congressional Scrutiny of Soft on Crime Policies

Republicans on the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Crime had a stern message during its hearing Tuesday afternoon — we must crack down on retail crime. 

"We need to vote for people who are going to be tough on crime," was Rep. Tom Tiffany's (R-WI) plea during the hearing as troubling spikes in organized retail crime force stores to lock up more merchandise and, in some cities, shutter their operations entirely. 

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Lorie Mohs gave testimony during the hearing about her son, Blake Mohs, who was murdered during an organized retail robbery of the Home Depot he worked at in Pleasanton, California. Mohs is a victim of a, "growing threat to a country that used to have respect to their fellow Americans," subcommittee Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said. 

Ms. Mohs asked lawmakers to enact legislation that would better protect the workers at these stores, allow them to stop shoplifters effectively, and keep criminals from running amok in her community. 

But many states, including California where lawmakers proposed a bill which would effectively prevent store employees from attempting to stop shoplifters on their own, are not taking action that would give organized retail crime rings a reason to stop their illicit activities.

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It seems that DC — which has seen a 30 percent jump in property crime and an 118 percent increase in motor vehicle theft from this same point last year — isn't the only city suffering from spiking crime. But what's causing the dangerous shift? Republican Congressman for California's 3rd district Kevin Kiley blames laws like props 47 and 57, which grant criminals an easier path to forgiveness. Former U.S. Attorney for Illinois John Milhiser and John Flynn, president of the National District Attorneys Association, agreed that incarceration is needed for repeat offenders and prosecutors have to crack down — the opposite of what Democrats are pushing in California and elsewhere. 

Blake Mohs was killed by a repeat offender. The killer had priors, but was continually let off with light if any punishment, as many criminals these days are. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) spent her time in this week's subcommittee hearing pointing out that the illegal weapon the killer used and blamed the "ruling party" for not doing anything about gun violence. Never mind, apparently, that Democrats insist more gun laws are necessary when existing ones clearly don't prevent criminals from breaking the law while Democrat prosecutors simultaneously refuse to use existing laws to their full extent. 

Another victim that certainly hasn't been lost in all this are the businesses from which goods are being stolen. During Chairman Biggs' opening statement at the hearing noted that a CVS theft is reported every three minutes and Walmart is losing $3 Billion to theft each year. 

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Ira Kress, president of the Giant grocery store chain, put an exclamation point on corporate losses that continue to force retailers to make changes. Kress told The Washington Post that "he's seen theft increase 'tenfold in the last five years' and violence increase 'exponentially.'" As a result, Giant is planning on "limiting the number of entrances to stores, hiring security guards, keeping fewer high-cost items on shelves, limiting the number of items allowed to be taken to self-checkout stands and even putting razor blades into secure containers that make noise when opened."

It isn't just densely-populated blue cities suffering, either. Kansas attorney General Kris Kobach spoke with the Witchita NBC affiliate KSN about spiking retail crime and how the Sunflower State is tackling it head-on by changing the way such crimes are handled, making the state attorney general the primary prosecutor in Kansas:

They’re not just operating in one county. They’re hitting store after store after store, and they’re crossing county lines. And so in a case like that, it’s more appropriate to bring the greater resources of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office rather than expect one county to prosecute when you’ve got a criminal gang operating in multiple counties in a single day.

Kobach also testified in this week's subcommittee hearing where he explained the professional nature of these criminal gangs. He said they intentionally avoid stealing more than the felony threshold, making off with the maximum amount of goods that they hope will mean they face lower consequences and be able to return to their illicit business as soon as possible. 

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Combine that with the elaborate network of shoplifters across the country whose sole job it is to steal and sell these products to pawn shops so they can move stolen goods without much of a trace, and the organized retail crime business certainly seems to have the legal system in the palm of its hand — especially in states unlike Kansas where there's no rush to apply the law and enact a deterrent to such crimes.  

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