Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., and the Manhattan Small Business Alliance today announced a comprehensive plan to help combat retail theft in the borough. The plan is the culmination of the Alliance’s monthly meetings with the D.A. and small group focus meetings, where store owners shared the negative impacts that retail theft has had on their businesses, and members heard from law enforcement and service providers. It focuses on the small group of people driving retail theft in Manhattan: between 2015 and 2021, 18 percent of people arrested for shoplifting comprised nearly half of all shoplifting arrests. The plan ensures that those most responsible are held accountable; develops proactive investigations into organized retail theft and fencing operations; and improves coordination with local businesses and the NYPD, all while enhancing services and other programmatic solutions.
“We cannot accept a system where individuals who shoplift again and again cycle in and out of jail, just to shoplift again. Our society can’t function that way – it doesn’t help our shop owners, and it doesn’t help those individuals,” said D.A. Bragg.
“At the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, we follow the data, and the data shows a small number of individuals are driving the retail theft crisis facing our borough. We need targeted interventions, tailored to these individuals’ needs and challenges, combined with accountability to ensure that there is engagement and compliance with programming and a stop to this cycle. That means services for those in need and the potential of incarceration for opportunists who repeatedly engage in commercial theft.”
“I thank my Manhattan Small Business Alliance for its partnership, and particularly the co-chairs for their time and dedication. While we know the D.A.’s Office can’t eradicate retail theft on its own, we are committed to following the data and making the most of our resources alongside our partners. The work does not stop here; we will continue to work hand-in-hand to address retail theft in Manhattan.”
Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said: “We are looking forward to working with the Manhattan D.A.’s team in this focused approach. Where we see organized retail theft, we will engage proactively. We will work together to target the fences who buy stolen goods. Where there is a persistent recidivist, we support pretrial detention. The contagion of retail theft has left some businesses at the brink and all parts of the criminal justice system must engage.”
Alliance Co-Chair Raymond Tsang, President of Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association and President of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association said: “After working closely with the D.A. Bragg as a member of the small business alliance for the past few months, we are pleased to see the work come to fruition. This plan, if properly implemented, will bring safety to our small business owners. For too long, we have seen our stores closing early as a way to combat the rising theft and other crimes. We applaud D.A. Bragg for taking the time to work closely with our communities and taking time to work up a plan that will hopefully fix the many issues that our communities are facing.”
Alliance Co-Chair Isidrio Medina, Executive Director of the Washington Heights Business Improvement District said: “The Washington Heights BID applauds the comprehensive efforts put forth by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office to address the issue of recidivism as it pertains to commercial larceny and retail crimes. Our small business community has been plagued by this insidious problem for some time and we hope this can be the start of finally rectifying and tightening up these loose regulations. Of great importance is the fact that this plan will also update the existing regulations by addressing the issue of the sale of stolen merchandise on the internet. The WHBID is looking forward to continuing working with the Manhattan D.A.’s Office and the Small Business Alliance to make our commercial corridors safer and vibrant.”
Alliance Co-Chair Ken Giddon, President of Rothman’s Men’s Clothing said: “Truly appreciative of the work of D.A. Bragg and his team on this issue. The task force was very effective in bringing the problem of shoplifting and violence against retail workers into focus. Too many people in public service believe it is a victimless crime that is “covered by insurance,” but in reality, it is a dangerous and debilitating situation, that tears at the very fabric of NYC. The D.A. has taken some crucial first steps here, and we look forward to working together to continue to make improvements. Thank you D.A. Bragg for bringing together so many different groups to push forward.”
Alliance Co-Chair Barbara Askins, President and CEO of 125th Street Business Improvement District said: “The work of the Alliance over the past 6 months brought together business leaders, NYPD, service providers and neighborhoods throughout Manhattan to engage in focused discussions about commercial burglaries and shoplifting. There is no question that this illegal activity is having a devastating impact on the entire business ecosystem and the work from the Alliance helped to dig deeper into the causes, what is being done now, and highlighted some immediate things that can be done to address the problem. Clearly there is more work that needs to be done and I am willing to continue to work with D.A. Bragg and the Alliance to address identified challenges, which will require more work and time to resolve, in order for our commercial districts to be safer.”
Tom Harris, President of Times Square Alliance said: “We commend D.A. Bragg for listening to the concerns of the community and developing a comprehensive strategy to address retail theft. D.A. Bragg and his team have shown a commitment to listen, learn, and respond with a clear and holistic strategy. Prosecuting the few who commit the majority of crimes will go a long way to restore a sense of safety for all New Yorkers”
Barbara Blair, President of Garment District Alliance said: “Serious and unexpected conditions occurred during Covid and the subsequent recovery including a dramatic increase in retail theft by repeat offenders. We appreciate the response of D.A. Bragg and his office to our concerns. Repeat offenders are responsible for an outsized percentage of crimes and must be stopped. Likewise, bad, one-off decisions should have a different path. D.A. Bragg’s understanding of the difference, and the seriousness that he takes in removing individuals that are having a deleterious impact on the public, real estate, businesses and neighborhoods is important. Likewise is applying the appropriate level of response to the various levels of gravity.”
Council Member Gale A. Brewer said: “I commend Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for his commitment to addressing retail theft and for convening the Manhattan Small Business Alliance. Data shows a significant increase in retail theft in almost every Manhattan police precinct, and more must be done to protect business owners and our commercial corridors. The recommendations proposed by the working group will make a positive difference.”
Council Member Keith Powers said: “As we rebuild New York, we cannot continue to rely on the same old practices that have failed us. It’s imperative that we’re connecting people to the support they need, while also protecting small business owners against the small percentage of those who hurt their ability to operate. I commend D.A. Bragg and the task force for their work, and look forward to seeing our communities only become stronger.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said: “Retail theft crimes have negative and costly impacts on business owners and consumers alike. I commend District Attorney Bragg for bringing people together to develop strategies to hold accountable those who participate in these crimes, including focusing on repeat offenders, dismantling fencing operations, and getting services for those in need. This should make a positive difference for all of us.”
The Plan to Reduce Retail Theft
Retail theft has risen in recent years, making communities across Manhattan less safe. Small businesses – many of which stayed open during the earliest stages of the COVID pandemic, with frontline staff working through dangerous conditions – suffer disproportionately and have been subject to repeat shoplifting and smash and go robberies. According to Alliance members, while larger stores and chains are able to hire private security and implement anti-theft measures, many mom-and-pop businesses cannot afford to do so without devastating their bottom line, or raising prices on law-abiding customers. The Alliance shared that small businesses are changing their hours and locking their doors – impacting their revenue – and that their employees feel increasingly unsafe. Retail employees shouldn’t be scared of being harmed at their workplaces.
Improving Coordination with NYPD
- Senior leadership from the D.A.’s Office and the NYPD will hold monthly meetings to analyze data and case outcomes for individuals with high rates of recidivism. This new level of coordination will be in addition to meetings with individual precincts, as well as Manhattan North and Manhattan South.
- The D.A.’s Crimes Strategies Unit is coordinating with the NYPD to ensure communication at the precinct level, allowing Commanding Officers to send us information in real time.
- The Alliance will develop a set of best practices for local businesses, including how best to maintain records and prevent retail theft.
- The D.A.’s Office will work with NYPD, local council members and business owners to develop warning signs that state the consequences of assaulting a store employee during a robbery.
- Through the Alliance, the D.A.’s Office developed a system to increase transparency and communicate case resolutions to business owners and security professionals. Any business owner can now contact the D.A.’s Community Partnerships Unit to remain informed about the status of cases that targeted their business – call Director Estelle Strykers-Santiago at 212-335-9340.
- The Office is expanding resources dedicated to investigating retail theft and fencing operations, leveraging sophisticated investigative techniques. Christopher Conroy, Senior Advisor to the Investigation Division, will lead this team, which also includes other prosecutors, an analyst, and investigators.
- The D.A.’s Office will continue to convene retail security professionals, as well as small retailers, community members, and the NYPD to build pattern cases and ultimately prosecute those most culpable for financing and facilitating fencing operations.
- D.A. Bragg and the Alliance will continue to advocate for the passage of S.8836, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, which would create penalties for online marketplaces and third-party sellers that foster the sale of stolen goods. Creating these new penalties will push companies – including large companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Amazon, where stolen goods often end up – to take further steps to safeguard their platforms and allow law enforcement to target the ringleaders of these schemes. It will also create a further disincentive for sellers to put stolen goods up for sale online.
- D.A. Bragg likewise advocates for the passage of S8391/A10096, sponsored by Senator Kevin Thomas and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, which aims to prevent crime in the first place by creating transparency and verification requirements on certain high-volume third-party sellers in the online marketplace. These requirements – which include providing names, contact information, and business tax identification numbers – will help to ensure that consumers are purchasing from legitimate companies and not entities created to trick online shoppers.
- The D.A.’s Office launched an initiative to stop retail theft by focusing on the people who drive retail theft in Manhattan. The first phase of the initiative focuses on top retail theft recidivists in Manhattan, all of whom are charged with at least one felony, and have either failed to appear at a scheduled court date or have multiple open pending cases.
- The Office will develop a specialized plan for each individual, including:
- a prepared application for pre-trial detention, where appropriate;
- a tailored services and programming approach developed by the Office’s Pathways to Public Safety Division to prevent future crime;
- pre-packaged discovery materials with assistance from the Office’s Litigation Support Unit and the NYPD, to prevent unnecessary case dismissals and move the case to a resolution as quickly as possible, whether that’s court-mandated programming as quickly as possible or incarceration.
- Data has shown that earlier service provision reduces recidivism. The Office’s Pathways to Public Safety Division will work to ensure access to programming and supportive services within 24 hours of an arrest, reducing the time it takes for New Yorkers to access voluntary services or enter mandated programming.
- The D.A.’s Office will fund supportive services that utilize a peer engagement model to help connect people to the myriad of City services available for those who are unhoused, unemployed, have mental, physical, or behavioral health needs, and more – making it easier to navigate these complex systems while assuring accountability.
- The D.A.’s Office will partner with the 125th Street Business Improvement District’s Harlem Hub to assist the interagency effort – including the NYPD, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and more – to reduce crime on 125th street. The Office will explore replicating the Hub model in other neighborhoods hit hardest by retail theft.