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A task force has some ideas about how to crack down on crimes against retail stores in Ohio

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Retailers in Ohio say crime is a major issue for them. Rick Carfagna, senior vice president for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce said in a recent survey for his organization, 62% of businesses in the state said rising crime has kept them from expanding.

Earlier this week, a national retail group retracted a claim that organized retail crime makes up half of the shopping industry’s theft losses. But retail theft is enough of a program that the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been studying it.

Bryan Lindsay, Major Crimes Investigations Manager at Walgreens, said stores are suffering large-scale losses by professional thieves.

“These types of individuals are not taking advantage of opportunities of shoplifting for personal use but rather stealing large quantities of the same type of merchandise for resale. It’s essentially their job and source of income,” Lindsay said.

The chamber’s crime task force has come up with recommendations for dealing with the problem. And it is recommending changes to state law.

Under the recommendations, a special section of the Attorney General’s office would be dedicated to dealing with retail theft. Attorney General Dave Yost said one of the big challenges is the decline of number of people in law enforcement. And he said that leaves many police agencies short-handed.

“That’s a problem because if you are facing a retail theft call, a sexual assault, and a gun violence crime all at the same time, you are going to have to prioritize something else,” Yost said.

Yost said his office has resources that can help local police and prosecutors.

“Most jurisdictions don’t have a DNA lab. They are expensive. A cyber crime is expensive. These are gaps that the state government has helped local government fill in with,” Yost said.

Going forward, Yost said he wants the special unit in his office to deal with retail crime and he wants it fully funded.

Left to right - Bryan Lindsay (Walgreens), Rick Carfagna (Ohio Chamber of Commerce), Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, Retired Judge Scott VanDerKarr speak to reporters about retail crime at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in Columbus
Left to right – Bryan Lindsay (Walgreens), Rick Carfagna (Ohio Chamber of Commerce), Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, Retired Judge Scott VanDerKarr speak to reporters about retail crime at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in Columbus. [Jo Ingles | Statehouse News Bureau]

Other recommendations from the retail crime task force

In addition to establishing the new office, the recommendations call for bundling crimes committed by the same people at roughly the same time at different places and across different jurisdictions.

Retired Franklin County Judge Scott VanDerKarr said if retail theft can’t be prosecuted timely, the AG’s office could step in and take over the prosecution, especially when local prosecutors are overwhelmed with handling other serious crimes.

“We’re not saying they’re not doing their job. It’s just a matter of realistic resources,” VanDerKarr said.

VanDerKarr said it’s “very practical” to allow the attorney general to help in prosecution. But he said the plan also provides the ability to deal with the resale market on stolen goods. “You have to have some mandatory sentencing when you are looking at truly organized retail theft,” VanDerKarr said, adding judges must be able to go beyond a “slap on the hands” and make it “a real bite in retail crime.”

The task force suggests retail criminals to be charged with more serious crimes and mandatory sentencing requirements for organized retail theft.