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Minnesota bill aims to deter organized retail theft

(The Center Square) – One lawmaker wants Minnesota to join 34 other states that have statutes criminalizing organized retail crime.

For the last two years, viral videos have shown groups ranging from 10 to 50 people coordinating and executing organized retail theft, hitting stores at once, and then selling the stolen goods online.

Senate File 3487 aims to establish the crime of organized theft, which is when a person or a group coordinates looting merchandise from a retailer to resell or return to the retailer.

Organized retail theft hurts business profitability more than individual retail theft because the items stolen are often more valuable than any single shoplifter would typically steal.

“In 2020, 75% of retailers saw an increase in organized crime, and I authored my bill in response to this drastic surge,” bill sponsor Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said in a statement. “Currently, 34 states have already defined organized retail crime, and by putting this definition into Minnesota law, we will have a modernized tool to address the changing ways organized retail crimes are carried out.”

One survey found 75% of loss prevention executives at a cross-section of large and mid-sized retail companies estimated organized retail theft had increased in the past year, up from 68% of executives surveyed last year. Losses averaged $719,548 per $1 billion in sales, a 2% increase from last year and the fifth year in a row that the figure topped the $700,000 mark.

“Retailers are seeing more cases and higher losses as organized crime continues to target stores, warehouses and cargo,” said Mark Mathews in a 2020 statement. He’s National Retail Federation vice president for Research Development and Industry Analysis. “Retailers are investing millions to fight these crimes, but they need more help from law enforcement and, most of all, they need tougher laws that recognize the difference between petty shoplifting and professional crime for profit.”

Penalties would range from a gross misdemeanor to a two-, seven-, or 15-year statutory maximum felony depending on stolen property value and the offender’s record.

“This bill will have an important impact on distinguishing between common petty shoplifting and organized crime,” Limmer said. “My hope is that this bill will provide prosecutors and law enforcement an updated tool to help address the theft going on at retailers of all sizes across Minnesota.”

In addition, receiving stolen retail merchandise with intent to resell and possessing shoplifting-related devices with the intent to shoplift would be violations.

This bill seeks enhanced penalties for violations that create a reasonably foreseeable risk of bodily harm to others and allows aggregation of the value of retail merchandise stolen in six months for charging purposes.

The Minnesota Retailers Association and the Minnesota Organized Retail Crime Association support the bill.

SF 3487 passed out of the Senate Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee and will now move to the Senate Finance Committee.

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