LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As thieves become more aggressive and organized retail crime (ORC) left Nevada with $85 million in lost tax revenue in 2020, recent legislation awaiting action seeks to deter these thefts in the first place.
Power tools are locked and caged at the Charleston Boulevard Home Depot.
Store Manager Larry Jensen said, “We would have never had to do something like this” five years ago.
After 12 years with the company, he said thieves more and more are taking merchandise and threatening associates who catch them in the act with violence or weapons.
“I’ve seen it where they’ve come in and been in the store less than a minute,” Jensen said, standing in the power tool aisle Wednesday morning. “We encourage our associates not to confront them specifically because they’re not trained to do that.”
“I’ve had guys that will walk up to a cooler and take a drink as they’re walking out,” another Home Depot employee said. “They’ll go to Lowes and sell it to contractors coming out of the doors.”
The National Retail Federation reports ORC has skyrocketed by 50% from 2015 to 2020.
It cost businesses $720,000 for each $1 billion of sales, with two-thirds of retailers reporting an increase in violence during these interactions.
During a roundtable discussion about ORC at Jensen’s Home Depot location Wednesday morning, Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee said it left the state with the $85 million tax revenue loss.
Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus added that over $100 million in stolen merchandise was lost just in 2022.
During the store tour of locked-up products, Scott Glenn, who is vice president of asset protection for Home Depot nationally, told the congresspeople that ORC is “costing us a couple of billion dollars” with only 5% of those products being recovered.
He associates the rise in crime with not enough legal repercussions for thieves and third-party online marketplaces that allow anonymous sales.
“This is basically theft for greed, not theft for need,” Glenn said during the roundtable. “These crimes are linked to other broader crimes such as gun running, drug trafficking, and human trafficking.”
Several of these crimes involve groups of people, typically not native to the area, that organize the escape and sell the goods online, at swap meets, and sometimes even outside the store they stole from, according to Raul O. Aguilar with Homeland Security.
He added during the roundtable that “Operation Boiling Point” was established in late 2021 to combat ORC, which initiated 119 criminal arrests, 71 indictments, and $6 million worth of recovery stolen goods in FY 2022.
Prosecuting related cases can take from a couple of months to a couple of years, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson says, depending on if the suspect is kept in detainment.
“We have some judges that provide pretty low bails, and that’s a challenge because if somebody’s out of custody, it’s called ‘delay, delay, delay’,” Wolfson said during the roundtable.
Now, lawmakers are awaiting action on HR 895, or the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act introduced in February 2023.
If passed, sponsors say the bill would strengthen federal coordination during these investigations, make ORC a federal offense, and heighten penalties in hopes it will deter the crime.
“It’s really focused on those that are the middleman,” Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto said during the roundtable. “We can utilize an aggregate of $5,000 or more to actually, at a federal level, prosecute.”
As that bill awaits its first hearing, Las Vegas police say, locally, they’re targeting those purposefully buying stolen goods to resell.
Deputy Chief of Metro Police’s Investigative Services Division Nick Farese says the Organized Retail Crime Section established two months ago has already recovered $3 million worth of stolen goods.
“We’re going after the comprehensively organized retail theft groups, that, they hit Home Depot one day and they hit Lowes another day,” Farese said during the roundtable. “If you eradicate the fences, then these boosters or thieves, no matter what level they’re at, they have no place to fence their merchandise to get money.”
The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023 is before the Judiciary Committee with 60 co-sponsors split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
No date has been set yet for its first hearing.