The North Carolina Senate unanimously voted June 6 for a bill that increases the penalties and charges for organized retail theft. House Bill 1005 passed by a vote of 102-0 and would mean a maximum 41-month prison term for those who conspire to steal $50,000 of merchandise or more within a 90-day period. If they steal more than $100,000 worth of goods in a 90-day period, they could face up to 182 months in prison; more than 15 years.
HB 1005, introduced by Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, allows prosecutors to label perpetrators as organizers, supervisors, financiers, leaders, or managers when they conspire with multiple people for retail theft. These labels allow for new felonies to be added to the same person.
The severity of punishments for organized retail theft is going up because of a rise in organized crime and brazen smash-and-grab robberies. Thieves targeted small retail stores last Christmas as store owners were trying to survive post-pandemic.
“They got through the first two waves of COVID, and they are trying to stay open,” said Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, when the bill was introduced in May. “They are trying to be good job creators in their community, paying taxes, and providing jobs.”
The N.C. House is not only trying to protect the livelihoods of store owners. They are trying to protect the economic development and employment in communities after COVID. As the economic climate in the country deteriorates, more retail theft is expected. Small shops are unlikely to survive if they face an economic downturn plus widespread theft.
Stakeholders say it is not just the loss of goods that harms our communities in organized theft; Deeper, darker issues are tied to it.
“These items are often being used to fund other unsavory activities like human trafficking or opioids,” Ellen said. “It’s feeding into these other crimes.”
The bill, known in the other chamber as SB 766, was passed 43-0 in its third reading by the N.C. Senate.
“Crime is on the rise in the United States,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Danny Earl Britt Jr. stated in a news release after the bill passed. “We saw it during the summer riots in 2020, and we see it today with the violent smash-and-grab incidents from California to the Carolinas. Senate Bill 766 provides law enforcement stronger recourse to pursue these criminals and shows business owners that these crime rings will not be tolerated. We cannot let our state turn into a criminal’s playground like Democrat-run states.”
Additions to the bill allow business owners to retrieve property stolen during a theft more quickly and contain transparency measures for third-party resellers who operate through online platforms.
In North Carolina, law enforcement agencies have recently busted crime rings and recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise. In one, a $400,000 bust in Cabarrus County uncovered stolen baby formula, power tools, appliances, and diapers all being sold through a third-party online site. In March, six people from Charlotte were busted for a racketeering ring, accused of stealing $250,000 worth of tools from Home Depot and Lowes and selling it on Offerup and Facebook marketplace.
“As organized retail crime has grown, online marketplaces have made it increasingly easy to sell stolen products anonymously and with little oversight,” Home Depot stated after their arrest. “We’re grateful for the continued partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and its Organized Retail Crime Task Force that recognize the significant impact these crimes have on our communities.”
A House version of the bill passed June 2.